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Nov. 27, 2013
Column #1,683
Supreme Court Accepts Religious Liberty Case
By Mike McManus

The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a landmark case addressing the right of Hobby Lobby Stores to operate their family company without being forced to provide potentially life-terminating drugs in employee insurance plans that violate the conscience of the owners. Founder David Green and his family operate 500 stores in 41 states.

“It is the most important religious liberty question in recent years,” says Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “What’s at stake in this case is whether or not the Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion.”

The Court also agreed to hear a similar case of Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet-making firm owned by a Mennonite family.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver concluded that forcing Hobby Lobby to comply with the Obamacare mandate to provide contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing “morning after pills” at no cost – against the faith of the owners - would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law protecting religious expression.

By contrast, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Conestoga. A divided court stated, “We simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation – apart from its owners – can exercise religion,” wrote Circuit Judge Robert Cowen.

David Green says his family believes that “It is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured.” Therefore, the Greens seek to honor God by “operating their company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” For example, all stores are closed on Sunday at a cost of millions so that employees can worship and spend time with their families. Additionally, full-time workers now start at 90% above the federal minimum wage, $13.77 - not $7.25. The company really is living the faith of the owners.

The White House released a statement, “We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree. The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations should be able to dictate those decisions to women.”

Dictate what decisions? Hobby Lobby actually provides contraceptives at its cost in its health plan, but objects to being forced to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.

Women who want them can buy them. They are not being prohibited from doing so.

Much larger freedom of conscience cases are being fought in 44 lawsuits by Catholic Dioceses, Southern Baptists, Catholic University, the evangelical Wheaton College, etc. Why should these religious employers be forced to provide drugs to their employees which violate their consciences?

The Erie and Pittsburgh Dioceses won a major victory last week in a Federal District Court which found that the mandate “places a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ right to freely exercise their religion.”

What’s more important, the Court asserted that the Dioceses are “likely to succeed on the merits,” of their claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reacted joyfully: “Just recently the U.S. bishops issued a unanimous message reaffirming our resolve to resist the HHS mandate and protect our religious freedom. The court’s decision vindicates that approach and we fully expect more decisions like these to follow. I’m strongly encouraged by the Court’s rejection of the government’s attempt to reduce freedom of religion to freedom of worship.”

This is an issue of concern to most religious denominations of 150 million Americans. Last summer about 100 leaders of many denominations and 20 universities issued an “Open Letter to All Americans Standing for Religious Freedom.” Signers ranged from Dr. Moore and Catholic Archbishop William Lori to the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and leaders of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, Russian Orthodox, and even Hare Krishna and Church of Scientology.

They said the HHS mandate represents a “breach of conscience by the federal government. Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B. The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining – or casting aside – religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.”

They noted that many signatories of the letter “do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraceptives. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens.”

They quoted the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”…HHS breaches the free exercise clause and federal statutes (passed with broad bipartisan support.)”

This is one battle Obama will lose.

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