The Supreme Court will hear two challenges to the new federal health care law that argue that businesses can use religious objections to escape a requirement to offer employee insurance coverage that includes access to birth control.
The justices said on Nov. 26 that they will take up an issue that prompted about 40 lawsuits from companies seeking to avoid the rule.
The court will consider two cases. The first involves Hobby Lobby Inc., an arts and crafts chain and the second involves an appeal from Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania company that makes wood cabinets.
Hobby Lobby won at the lower court level. Conestoga did not.
The Supreme Court will combine the arguments and probably hear them in March, with a decision likely in June — the same schedule the Court has followed for other high-profile cases, including this year's marriage equality cases.
In both cases, the companies are owned and operated by Christian families that say providing insurance coverage to employees that covers contraception violates their religious beliefs.
The focus during the arguments will be on whether businesses can have religious beliefs under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the First Amendment provision guaranteeing Americans the right to believe and worship as they choose.
Abourt four years ago, the justices, in the Citizens United case on campaign financing, expanded the concept of corporate "personhood" and said, basically that corporations have a right to participate in the political process the way individuals do.
The AP, in its analysis of the cases, said the Justices will deal with:
• Can businesses hold religious beliefs?
• Does the health care provision significantly infringe on those beliefs ?
• If so, does the government still have a sufficient interest in guaranteeing women who work for the companies access to contraception?