(JTA) — Two decades ago the Jewish community united in support of landmark religious freedom legislation. Now the Supreme Court’s application of that law has Jewish groups divided.
Leading Jewish advocacy groups denounced the court’s 5-4 decision Monday in the Hobby Lobby case granting religious freedoms protections to companies, while Orthodox groups lauded the ruling.
In ruling that closely owned corporate firms with religious objections do not have to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans, the majority based its decision on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
“They’ve opened up a Pandora’s box through corporations claiming religiously motivated exemptions against an array of rules and regulations the government passes to enhance the public welfare,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, said in an interview.
In two friend-of-the-court briefs, nine Jewish groups had opposed arguments by Hobby Lobby, a crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialities, a cabinet maker, that their owners’ devout Christianity exempted them from extending to employees contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signal first-term legislation.
But the Orthodox groups that had joined an amicus brief backing Hobby Lobby and Conestoga praised the decision.
“The Court’s ruling stands for the proposition that — even when the government seeks to implement valuable policy goals — it must do so without trampling upon the conscientious beliefs of American citizens, especially, as is the case here, when there are many other ways to meet the policy goals without infringing on religious liberty,” Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Washington office, said in a statement.
Both sides referred to the law that undergirded the conservative majority’s decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito. Saperstein said the majority ruling badly missed the point of the Religious Freedom Reform Act.
“We believe deeply in RFRA and robust religious liberties,” he said. “We believe the court was wrong in saying there are religious claims corporations can make. Corporations don’t have souls or consciences the way that people or associations of like-minded people do.”