Religious Freedom at Home

(Photo / Danny Huizinga)

(Photo / Danny Huizinga)

The Supreme Court just heard arguments for Greece v. Galloway, a case about legislative prayer and religious freedom. But the debate shouldn’t stop there.

The Court should also agree to hear Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, a high-profile case that carries widespread implications for religious business owners across the country. 

Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius is the case in which Hobby Lobby is suing the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the Obamacare contraception mandate. Contrary to the popular rhetoric, the issue is not even about birth control – Hobby Lobby still offers 16 other types of birth control in its health insurance plan. 

The owners of Hobby Lobby, a corporation, simply believe that providing the “morning-after” pill (“emergency contraception”) as part of the company’s health insurance plan contradicts their religious beliefs. The Obama administration has refused to allow them, or the 200 other plaintiffs in related cases, an exemption from this requirement.

Many are quick to claim that Hobby Lobby is imposing its religious beliefs on its employees. They don’t believe the owners of the company should have the right to structure the insurance plan based on their convictions.

But why not? Since when are business owners not allowed to make the decisions for their company?

Employees of Hobby Lobby cannot claim religious beliefs are forced upon them. They are not required to go to church, pray at work, or read the Bible on breaks. Employees are already protected against religious discrimination in hiring and firing by United States law.

In fact, a job at Hobby Lobby is quite appealing. Full-time hourly workers start at 80 percent above the minimum wage, and the store is always closed on Sundays. If employees would rather work for another company that does not offer those benefits but does provide the morning-after pill, that is completely their choice. No one is forcing them to work for Hobby Lobby.

Employees are rational actors too, and they are able to assess the costs and benefits of their choices without the government managing the company’s health plan.

The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states that Congress shall make no law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. Yet President Obama has limited the interpretation of this clause, defining it in a January 2013 speech as the “freedom to worship as we choose.” Note the difference between the two interpretations.

Freedom to worship is important, but it does not capture the whole picture. Religion is not simply a service in church once a week, it is a living set of beliefs and actions that defines our daily lives. Unilaterally restricting the scope of the First Amendment to omit protection for places like Hobby Lobby is dangerous and unconstitutional.

Os Guinness, a renowned expert on religious freedom, puts it this way in his book The Global Public Square: “Free exercise goes beyond mere freedom of worship to include… the right to profess, practice, and propagate faith too.”

The Supreme Court should take up the Hobby Lobby case and allow the company the religious freedom rights guaranteed to it by the Constitution, regardless of the Obama administration’s attempts to curtail that freedom.

Originally published at Communities at WashingtonTimes.com.

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4 responses to “Religious Freedom at Home

  1. Suppose I agree with your legal arguments, may one still ask, what is the best way for me as a Christian employer to honor the religious beliefs and freedoms of those I hire? Given what should be the owner of Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom, is the decision the owner has made the best moral decision? I haven’t thought this through, but I’m wondering about your take on that.

    • I would say absolutely. It could be considered both legally and morally wrong if the owner of Hobby Lobby tried to force his employees to go to church, read the Bible, etc. But it is neither legally nor morally wrong to abstain from providing a form of birth control for which he doesn’t agree with (especially when they already offer 16 types). Does the employer have a moral obligation to provide 17 types of birth control?

      • I was thinking about the possibility of supererogation, going beyond what morality requires. Which is better, to do what his morality allows or to make opportunity for the employee to do what her morality allows? Can both happen? In this case, perhaps, providing an HSA account that has broad applications would both keep his morality in tact AND allow the employee to exercise her morality as she sees fit. May an analogy be made to a Christian grocer who sells liquor? If a buyer abuse the liquor he has bought, is the grocer responsible? By the way, I’m not assuming a correct answer is obvious, but merely exploring options for an employer like Hobby Lobby that both respects his religious liberty AND that of the employee at the same time.

        • Perhaps – though Obamacare is making HSA’s more expensive as well by discouraging them (by not counting individuals’ contributions: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2012/04/27/how-obamacare-will-make-health-savings-accounts-more-costly/) But I think that could have been a great example of one of many compromises that the administration should have strived for rather than refusing to listen to Hobby Lobby and the other 200 plaintiffs.

          If a buyer abuses the liquor, a grocer is of course not responsible. Just as a gun manufacturer is not responsible for those who murder with their products. But should the grocer be forced to provide liquor if he does not feel comfortable doing so? I would argue no.

          In my view, employees of Hobby Lobby have the liberty to only use the morning-after pill rather than preventative birth control, but they do not have the right to have their employer pay for that decision.

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