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Making Religious Liberty More than a Hobby



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The biggest judicial victory yet in the cases of religious objectors to Obamacare’s Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate has come today in a ruling for Hobby Lobby, allowing the case to go on without the imminent threat of fines.

Although consistently pretending to have accommodated religious-organizations concerns, the White House has never voiced an interest in the religious-liberty rights of business owners; and this latest ruling, is a positive sign that there are jurists who can see through the secularist ideology to protect religious freedom.  

Via the Becket Fund:

Today, the en banc 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a major victory to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., by reversing and remanding the district court’s erroneous ruling.  The circuit court returned the case to the district court with instruction to consider whether to grant Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction. 

“Today marks a milestone in Hobby Lobby’s fight for religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “This is a tremendous victory not only for the Green family and for their business, but also for many other religious business owners who should not have to forfeit their faith to make a living.”

The 10th Circuit sent the case back to the district court for swift resolution of the injunction proceeding.  The court reasoned Hobby Lobby has, “established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.”

This comes during the second Fortnight for Freedom, a two week period of prayer and education lead by Catholics, seeking to remind people of our civic responsibilities as stewards of civil liberties. As the Green family that runs Hobby Lobby has expressed, Christianity is a seven-day a week matter, it’s a call to an integrated life, not something that can be confined — and by the government — to inside houses of worship — or Sunday flows into Monday as New York’s Cardinal Dolan recently put it. 

By fighting this battle in court, the Greens and all the other plaintiffs, are both being good stewards of all our religious liberties, but good witnesses of authenticity and integrity. (Something that came up in my latest syndicated column.)

Religious freedom is going to be challenged in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court rulings. It already has. Can a church entity – including a retreat house — refuse a same-sex wedding? Churches are already losing in court. Conscience needs some protection.

First we need to revisit what exactly that is. (Which is why Robby George’s book on the topic is so timely.)

Thanks to the Becket Fund for defending Hobby Lobby in a case where the U.S. Department of Justice has been making shocking claims, as I’ve discussed here with Becket’s Duncan. As Duncan explains:

Here’s what they are saying: once someone starts a “secular” business, he categorically loses any right to run that business in accordance with his conscience. The business owner simply leaves her First Amendment rights at home when she goes to work at the business she built. Kosher butchers around the country must be shocked to find that they now run “secular” businesses. On this view of the world, even a seller of Bibles is “secular.” Hobby Lobby’s affiliate, Mardel, sells Bibles and other Christian-themed material, but because it makes a profit the government has now declared it “secular.”

The administration’s position here — while astonishing — is actually consistent with its overall view of the place of religion in civil society. After all, this is the administration who argued in the Hosanna-Tabor case last year in the Supreme Court that the religion clauses of the First Amendment offered no special protection to a church’s right to choose its ministers — a position that the Court rejected 9-0. This is the administration which has taken to referring to “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” — suggesting that religious freedom consists in being free to engage in private rituals and prayers, but not in carrying your religious convictions into public life. And this is the administration who crafted a “religious employer” exemption to the HHS mandate so narrow that a Catholic charity does not qualify for conscience protection if it serves non-Catholic poor people.

As you point out, the administration is trying to justify its rigid stance against religious business owners by saying otherwise they would become a “law unto themselves,” and be able to do all sorts of nasty things to their employees — like force them to attend Bible studies, or fire them if they denied the divinity of Christ. Nonsense. Hobby Lobby isn’t arguing for the right to impose the Greens’ religion on employees, nor for the right to fire employees of different religions. There’s already a federal law that protects employees from religious discrimination and that’s a very good thing. This case is about something entirely different:  it’s about stopping the government from coercing religious business owners. The government wants to fine the Greens if they do not violate their own faith by handing out free abortion drugs, and now it’s saying they don’t even have the right to complain in court about it. 

Thanks to the Green family for drawing a line in the sand. We have to draw lines in the sand. Or we’re going to be sliding down a “ski slope.”

When religious liberty was threatened, where were we? Increasingly we will be called to rise to the occasion.  



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