Religious Freedom Has a Day in Court

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear its first challenge to the abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization Department of Health and Human Services Obamacare mandate. Hobby Lobby, the national arts and crafts chain run by an Evangelical family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania business run by a Mennonite family, will have their day in court in defense of religious liberty against the narrowing definition the Obama administration’s mandate represents.

Matthew Bowman, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Conestoga Wood Specialties (read my latest interview with Conestoga Wood CEO Anthony Hahn here), talks to National Review Online about the case.

KJL: Is it significant that the Court is designating 90 minutes for these cases?

MattHEW Bowman: Not necessarily. There is no second case scheduled for that day, and this case has several issues within it, so the justices might just want to feel less rushed.

KJL: Is the question here whether businesses are people, too? With religious-liberty rights?

BOWMAN: The question is whether families can be deprived of freedom just because they try to earn a living in business.

KJL: SCOTUSblog explains that “the two cases that the Court has combined for review set up a direct conflict between the interests of some employers against those of their female workers of child-bearing age.” Is that how you’d described the two cases?

BOWMAN: The only conflict of interests is between the expansive power of government agencies to coerce American families and even deny that they have freedom at all, and the ability of families not to help destroy human life just because they try to earn a living for themselves in the United States of America.

KJL: People are saying this debate is about access to contraception. You disagree?

BOWMAN: Such minimalistic descriptions hide the basic fact that the government is coercing families with massive fines unless they buy abortion products for other people, and this case is entirely about that coercion, nothing more.

KJL: Is there a universal right to access to contraception, as some argue? Where should such a debate be hashed out? How?

BOWMAN:  Obamacare explicitly decided not to deliver this mandate to tens of millions of women, but somehow religious objectors must be coerced to buy abortifacient products for other citizens according to the government and its supporters.

KJL: The Greens (who run Hobby Lobby) and the Hahns (who run Conestoga Woods) don’t object to contraception but pills that can induce abortion. Which pills are they? Are we so sure they are abortion pills?

BOWMAN:  The government in this case concedes that many items the FDA calls “contraception” can also destroy a newly conceived human life.

KJL: Do they really have any right to object to providing insurance coverage of these pills when abortion is legal in America?

BOWMAN: Interestingly, even the Supreme Court has said many times that there is no right for one private person to force another citizen to buy abortion products and other such items for them — not even the government has the right to do that. But this administration contends that whenever it coerces someone to do something, that coercion is self-justifying and no one may object.

KJL: To what extent is this case about the First Amendment, and to what extent is it about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

BOWMAN: It is about both, to a great extent. Congress said religious freedom is our most cherished freedom and the federal government cannot trample upon it. Congress did so because the First Amendment enshrined religious freedom as one our most fundamental rights.

KJL: What is it about religious freedom that needed to restored when that legislation passed? What about today?

BOWMAN: Religious freedom and freedom in general needs to be reaffirmed and re-protected in every generation. In RFRA, Congress and President Clinton did so in an almost unanimous fashion. Today we are doing so by urging the courts not to effectively erase those protections and let loose an unprecedented expansion of bureaucratic control over our daily lives.

KJL: What are the most misunderstood or underappreciated facts about these cases?

BOWMAN: That people of faith must abandon their beliefs just because they try to earn a living.

KJL: Why do you ask the question elsewhere: “Can a For-Profit Corporation Have a Racial Identity?

BOWMAN: President Obama’s appointee to an appellate court recently observed that a for-profit company run by an African American can sue if his company faces discrimination because of his race, under the theory that his race is “imputed” to his company, and his company is a “person” under nearly the same federal statutory definitions that apply to RFRA. But the government insists that no family business can have a religious character or be able to sue under RFRA. The contradiction is startling.

KJL: What are the implications for the Supreme Court ruling in these cases for religious liberty in America?

BOWMAN: Religious liberty will either be eliminated for Americans in their daily work lives as families trying to earn a living in business, clearing the way for the government to coerce people to participate even in late-term surgical abortions or other objectionable practices, or it will be sustained for these few families and it will allow us to build on the principle that the government has some limits in what it can coerce Americans to do.

KJL: What is conscience and how does it relate to this case? What is its relationship to religious liberty? What might its future be?

BOWMAN: The First Amendment and RFRA protect the free exercise of religion, recognizing that religious principles are not just things we believe but they are integral to our daily lives and choices. This is why robust religious-freedom protections are necessary.

KJL: If the Court were to rule for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, what does that mean for women?

BOWMAN: Women value religion, religious freedom, and life itself. A victory for freedom in this case would prevent the government from forcing women to abandon their religious freedom when they earn a living for their families in business, and prevent the government from coercing women in business and other contexts to participate in the destruction of human life.

KJL: What’s your biggest concern about religious liberty in America? What’s gives you hope about it?

BOWMAN: Religious liberty is the fundamental freedom in America, and these cases actually give me hope that people will realize that without it the increasingly large federal government can coerce people’s daily lives in greater and unprecedented ways.

KJL: This week the president will meet with the pope and no doubt talk about religious liberty, as he did during his Prayer Breakfast speech. What do you make of that and what would you hope people would appreciate both about religious liberty in America and any connection to those who are persecuted for their faith around the world? ​

BOWMAN: The president has made a decisive choice to attack religious liberty again and again, and to use the coercive levers of big government to punish people who will not participate in his life-destroying agenda. I will pray for him, and I imagine the pope will too.

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