On October 28, 2014, Ilya Shapiro spoke to Iowa Law students on the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision earlier this year in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The case analyzed the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to closely held, for-profit corporations. Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute as well as the editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

As Shapiro explained, both the case itself and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that a closely held for-profit corporation could, under the RFRA, avoid offering its employees health insurance that included certain forms of contraceptive care generated intense arguments about the balance between religious freedom and women’s rights as well as the theory that a corporation can exercise religion.

According to Shapiro, however, both arguments missed the meaning of the Hobby Lobby decision. The Supreme Court neither prevented access to contraception nor broke new legal ground in allowing a corporation to exercise constitutional rights. Instead, the Hobby Lobby decision reiterated that “individuals do not lose their constitutional rights when they associate in groups. The government cannot force people – or their associations – to do things that violate their consciences.”

Paul Wilson, a 3L, said of Shapiro’s presentation, “He gave a different perspective on the case than what I’d read in the media and even from what I had learned about the case in some of my constitutional law and business law classes.” Wilson is the president of the Iowa chapter of the Federalist Society, which hosted the lecture.

Shapiro explores these and other ideas in the book Religious Liberty for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution, co-authored with David H. Gans, of the Constitutional Accountability Center. 

--Jay Stirling | November 4, 2014