Sen. Mike Johanns says the Supreme Court had to reach the conclusion it did in the Hobby Lobby case if religious liberty is to mean anything in the United States.
Johanns sees the ruling as very positive.
“If conscience protection, religious liberty, etc. are to mean anything, it just seemed to me that they had to come to this conclusion,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview.
Johanns doesn’t read a lot into the narrow 5-to-4 ruling, stating such splits are the norm on significant constitutional issues.
“People will try to make something out of it relative to this court, but the reality is you’re just going to run into this at various times in the history of the country,” according to Johanns. “These are very, very challenging constitutional issues, depending upon what side of the political spectrum you’re on.”
The court ruled that the federal government cannot compel a family-owned corporation to provide contraception coverage that violates the owner’s religious convictions.
Both Hobby Lobby of Oklahoma and Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania filed lawsuits against the federal government, claiming the contraception mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services violated their First Amendment religious rights.
Specifically, the family-held corporations sought exemptions from a few of the 20 methods of contraception DHHS mandates that health insurance policies provide. Those methods of contraception edge too closely to abortion, according to the businesses, which runs contrary to the religious beliefs of their owners.
The ruling in favor of the businesses relied heavily on the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, which requires the federal government to find the least restrictive way to enforce rules that might be contrary to religious beliefs.
Though the majority opinion described the ruling as narrow, a dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cast a different view, stating that it would invite businesses to seek religiously based exemptions from various federal rules and laws.
“I just don’t see where Justice Ginsburg is coming from on this,” Johanns says. “I think there could have been some potential for an expansive ruling, but it just didn’t happen here. It just didn’t happen.”
Johanns also rejects suggestions that the ruling extends what should be individual constitutional rights to corporations.
“I think if this had been a corporate interest with millions of stockholders, you could have had a much different result,” Johanns says. “Hobby Lobby is basically a family, a very devout Christian family and that’s what allowed the Supreme Court to keep five votes together and get this ruling.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Sen. Mike Johanns on the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling. [4 min.]