Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch was the lead Republican sponsor of a 1993 federal law at the crux of the Supreme Court’s decision that closely held companies do not have to provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Hatch and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., pushed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote, shows that Congress designed the law to provide "very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice."
"Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations," Alito wrote, "thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them."
Hatch on Monday applauded the high court’s 5-4 decision, saying that it protects religious freedom for all Americans. The Utah Republican had warned during a Memorial Day event in May that he would run an amendment to the Constitution to ensure religious freedom if the court ruled the other way.
"The notion that religious freedom belongs only to some, and even then only in private, defies our nation’s traditions, our laws and our Constitution," Hatch said. "And as the Supreme Court rightfully said today, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not have been clearer in saying religious liberty of all Americans must be equally protected and not unnecessarily burdened."
Hatch added that while President Barack Obama and Democrats have tried to make the issue about birth control, the concern is the larger issue of government mandates over religious freedom.
"Today’s decision reaffirms the supremacy of our nation’s laws and rights over President Obama’s divisive agenda," said Hatch, who had joined fellow members of Congress in a brief to the court supporting Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain that sued over the Obamacare requirement it provide contraception coverage.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also said Monday that the court’s decision is an important victory for religious liberty.
"Americans do not shed their religious freedoms merely by going into business," said Lee, a former Supreme Court clerk for Alito.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, heralded the ruling as well.
"The Obama administration’s attempt to force employers to pay for things that they may oppose on religious or moral grounds was unacceptable," Bishop said, "and I’m glad that we have some resolution on this matter."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.