Burwell was a consolidation of two cases, originally called Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Sebelius. The former concerned a mandate by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services that required David and Barbara Green and their family for-profit business, Hobby Lobby, to provide payment for abortion drugs and contraceptive devices in their health insurance plan, contrary to their religious convictions, or pay severe fines. The Greens refused and argued the government mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Burwell is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court allowing privately held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to, if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest, according to the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In so ruling, the Court embraced the view that closely held for-profit corporations are legal “persons” under the RFRA and are therefore capable of exercising religion. It is the first time that the Court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief, but it is limited to privately held corporations.
The Hobby Lobby case which arose out of the 10th District Court of Appeals and the related Conestoga Wood Specialties case out of the 3rd District Court of Appeals, were consolidated and heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.