The Supreme Court's decision Monday in what is often called the Hobby Lobby case brought a range of reaction from business owners and politicians around Florida and the Tampa Bay area.
The court said that corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
The justices' 5-4 decision is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies' health insurance plans.
Paul Pizzo, a Tampa attorney who represented a Largo business owner who argued the contraceptive mandate violated his religious beliefs, said his client was ecstatic over the ruling.
"It's not about money. It's about religious beliefs,'' Pizzo said. "I don't know what these folks would have done if the decision went the other way. The penalties were so draconian.''
Beckwith Electric Co. had won a ruling by a federal judge last year exempting it from having to pay for certain contraceptive drugs and devices and was anxiously awaiting the top court's decision. Pizzo said the ruling will allow the 160-employee company to continue operating as usual.
"I think it's a good decision for America,'' he said. "I think women's health interests will not be adversely impacted, but the people who hold these beliefs will be allowed to continue to practice their beliefs.''
A devout Southern Baptist, the company's owner, Thomas Beckwith, has said he doesn't oppose all forms of birth control but objects to drugs and devices that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. Losing the case would have forced him to pay millions of dollars in annual fines, an amount that could have threatened his company's survival.
Lillian Tamayo, chairwoman of the Florida Planned Parenthood PAC, called the judges' decision a ruling against women and families.
"The decision to take birth control is between a woman and her doctor, not her boss,'' she said in a statement. "It's not the role of bosses of private, for-profit businesses to make decisions about women's health care for their employees based solely on their own personal religious beliefs.''
She criticized Florida for being among 20 states that filed a brief in support of Hobby Lobby's case and emphasized that the ruling didn't strike down birth control benefits provided under the health care act.
Florida's chief financial officer Jeff Atwater praised the court for upholding matters of personal faith without any overreaching of government involvement.
"It reaffirms a fundamental truth . . . that religious rights are of profound significance to Americans, and deserve at least the same level of protection as any of our founding principles,'' he said.
Michael Allen, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, said the ruling, while a clear winner for religious freedoms, left open for interpretation questions about how a corporation can exercise those liberties.
Rather than a case about First Amendment rights, Allen said, it was case about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which could be changed by Congress at any time. The act prevents laws that burden a person's free exercise of their religion.
"I think certain members of the court are more inclined to make incremental decisions and leave things to be decided down the road," he said. "But you really do let the genie out.''