The U.S. Supreme Court said it will consider whether certain for-profit companies must follow the Affordable Care Act's mandate requiring health insurance policies that provide free contraception coverage. This is the first legal challenge to Obamacare since the Supreme Court upheld the law almost 18 months ago.

USA Today reports that, regardless of how the justices vote, the court's ruling won't strike down the entire healthcare law. The larger question at hand, however, is whether the religious rights granted by the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause extend to for-profit businesses.

The corporations whose lawsuits were chosen over some 40 others say, in essence, that they do pray. The cases were filed by Hobby Lobby, a chain of more than 500 arts-and-crafts stores with about 13,000 full-time employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Lancaster, Pa., woodworking business run by a Mennonite family.

Hobby Lobby closes on Sundays and funnels millions of dollars in profits to ministries. Its website proclaims its commitment to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles."

Currently the law states that companies that offer health insurance and have 50 or more employees must provide contraception coverage as preventative care for female workers. Churches and other religious institutions have been excluded from the mandate, but so far no for-profit companies have been able to follow suit. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that "Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion," includes for-profit corporations under the definition of "person."

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli wrote in court papers [PDF] that the government believes for-profit companies should not be protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that there will be serious consequences if they are. "The court of appeals decision [in support of Hobby Lobby] is incorrect," Verilli wrote, "and would transform RFRA from a shield for individuals and religious institutions into a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws."

[Image via AP]