The Supreme Court is currently embroiled in oral arguments over one of the most important religious liberty issues in recent years: Hearing challenges to Obamacare’s mandate to provide potentially life-ending drugs and devices. The high-stakes cases—brought by the Green family who own Hobby Lobby and the Hahn family who run Conestoga Wood Specialties—have implications for freedom far beyond the two individual families.
At the heart of the issues before the Supreme Court is the question of who will decide what religious freedom means, and where and when Americans can live out their values. From the creation of the mandate and its narrow religious exemption, the government has erroneously declared itself the arbiter of religious freedom when it comes to the coercive rule.
Emboldened by the new-found authority granted through the President’s sweeping healthcare law, the Obama administration included one of the narrowest religious exemptions in federal policy to the coercive mandate. Indeed, this exemption effectively applies only to formal houses of worship. For everyone else, including family businesses like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the message was clear: get over your deeply held beliefs and get in line with the mandate.
To resist comes with the threat of federal fines up to $100 per employee per day (millions of dollars a year).
Such picking and choosing of who gets to live out their faith in how they act and work isn’t consistent with the protection of religious freedom enshrined in our nation’s founding and defended in laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
Passed in 1993 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, the federal RFRA prohibits substantial government burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so in the least restrictive way.
That’s a high wall for the government to scale in making its case for threatening a fundamental freedom and one the Obama Administration is ill-prepared to surmount at the Court today.
As with many high profile Supreme Court cases, the heated arguments inside the chamber are almost as entertaining as the theatrics outside the Court. Today is no different.
This morning, the nation’s largest abortion provider, which was one of many special interest groups involved in creating the mandate, is continuing to play cheerleader for the Obama Administration.
With its banner draped across the steps of the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood will likely declare that the mandated drugs and devices are “not my boss’ business” and leads chants about keeping employers out of the decisions of female employees.
Ironically, that’s exactly what the Green and Hahn families are arguing in Court today—to not have the government force them to be involved in their employees’ healthcare choices when it comes to drugs that could end a life.
Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the families, all women, including those who work for the Hahns and the Greens, would remain free to make their own personal decisions about these drugs and services. The Greens and the Hahns simply want the freedom not to participate in those decisions.
It’s a principle of pluralism that forms the bedrock of our free and diverse society and one the Green family understands. “We realize that people make their own choices and must follow their own beliefs just as we want to follow our own beliefs,” explains Danielle Green, daughter of Hobby Lobby president Steve Green.
For all the fanfare outside the Court, the Justices will hear the straightforward requests of two families who simply want the freedom to continue living their lives and running their businesses according to their deeply held convictions without fear of government penalties.
America’s robust conception of religious liberty provides every person the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs, and live according to the dictates of his or her conscience—whether at home, in worship, or at work. The fundamental beliefs that help us make sense of the world, as well as the convictions that guide our lives, cannot be lightly discarded. Nor should they be the subjects of bureaucratic negotiations.
This debate isn’t about whether the Greens and Hahns are correct in their beliefs. You don’t need to agree with the families’ expression of their faith or share their opposition to abortion to know that the government shouldn’t force any American to violate their conscience in order to create jobs and make a living. Religious liberty, after all, includes the right to be wrong.
But religious liberty can only be meaningful if it applies to everyone—not just those the government deems worthy. Which is why all Americans should hope the Supreme Court rules against the Obama Administration’s narrow view of faith.
Because freedom is everyone’s business.