On February 19, nine U.S. Senators and two U.S. Representatives joined a “friend of the court” brief in Hobby Lobby’s 10th Circuit Court appeal over the Obamacare anti-conscience mandate, highlighting the Obama Administration’s refusal to recognize business owners’ religious freedom.
The congressional brief explains that the federal government “may not pick and choose whose exercise of religion is protected and whose is not.”
The brief is signed by original supporters of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits substantial government burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive means.
The congressional brief charges that the religious freedom law has implications for the anti-conscience mandate’s assault on employers’ religious liberty, but that the Obama Administration has all but ignored the statute in word and deed.
The Obama Administration’s “refusal to apply RFRA…turns the law of religious freedom upside down,” the congressional brief states. “RFRA places a heavy burden on Government and protects religion by default. But the HHS mandate places a heavy burden on religion and protects Government by default.”
That federal protection of religious liberty was broad as well as overwhelmingly bipartisan. Various versions of RFRA were introduced by then-Senator Joe Biden (D–DE), Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT), and the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D–MA), with the final version passed with broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The religious freedom bill was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.
As the congressional brief explains, “Congress plainly wrote RFRA to include corporations[.]” Yet, the Obama Administration has repeatedly suggested that business owners’ right to religious freedom ends when they walk into their workplaces because for-profit employers do not engage in exercise of religion.
Such an offensively narrow view of faith in public life has threatened the rights and livelihoods of many job-creating businesses and their owners—including Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby has over 500 stores in 41 states and employs more than 22,500 individuals. The Green family, who founded and runs Hobby Lobby, seeks to operate the company in accordance with Christian principles—including offering an employee health care plan that aligns with those values.
Under the Obamacare mandate, however, Hobby Lobby will be forced to provide and pay for abortion-inducing drugs—regardless of the owners’ religious objections to doing so—or face $1.3 million in fines per day.
Indeed, in exercising its new-found authority over health care, provided by the overreaching arm of Obamacare, the Administration has run roughshod over many employers’ religious liberty. Even in attempting to conceal its assault on a fundamental freedom, the Administration has put forth an unworkable and inadequate “accommodation” that explicitly excludes business owners like the Green family. Many employers’ religious freedom is now subject to the haphazard negotiations of bureaucrats.
As Members of Congress write in the brief: “By failing to follow RFRA…[the government] guaranteed that impassioned political considerations would take the place of reasoned legal consideration.”
The problems with this mandate and others like it in the future should have been foreseeable when Obamacare gave bureaucrats the power to decide what insurance companies must cover, employers must provide, and individuals must purchase.
Leaders at Hobby Lobby, like the more than 130 other plaintiffs suing over the coercive mandate, remain hopeful that the courts will have a better respect for the law and all Americans’ ability to live and work in accordance with their faith.