Inside Court with the Supremes: Religious Freedom’s Hearing

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Matt Bowman is a senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the Mennonite Hahn family who run Conestoga Wood Specialties. He talked with National Review Online about his impressions of the oral arguments and how they were received.


KJL: What was your impression of the Court scene today?

Matt Bowman: I was encouraged by the concern many justices expressed about the idea that families abandon their constitutional freedoms when they try to earn a living for themselves in business.


KJLAre you worried about the questions Justice Anthony Kennedy asked?

BOWMAN: Actually Justice Kennedy made several significant interventions about the government’s extreme positions and the weaknesses of its case. He drew out the fact that under the government’s theory of the case a family business “could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.” And he was very concerned that a fundamental freedom protected in the constitution and congressionally-emphasized in Religious Freedom Restoration Act could somehow be reinvented or essentially ignored by a mere executive branch agency.


KJLGiven the unanimous Hosanna-Tabor religious-liberty case, did you expect the women justices to be less hostile than they were today?

BOWMAN: Well, I was encouraged that when the government claimed that if a family goes into business it loses its ability to exercise religion on the front end of the case and cannot have its day in court at all, Justice Kagan said “I’m not sure I understand that as a threshold” issue.


KJLWhat’s your best hope for this case based on today’s hearing?

BOWMAN: Our best hope is that the Court will protect the free exercise of religion for all Americans including when they earn a living in business, and that it will recognize that Congress never gave “compelling” priority to Obamacare’s abortion-pill mandate, nor could it without opening the door to outright coerced participation in any kind of abortion or other objectionable practices.


KJLWhat’s you worry?

BOWMAN: The government’s positions against religious freedom and using federal overreach to attack the sanctity of life are extreme, and yet a minority of lower court judges have adopted those ideas.


KJLWhat’s next for non-profits challenging the HHS Mandate? Is there anything to learn from today?

BOWMAN: The government demonstrated today that it wants the court to engage in theological judgments about how close to abortion religious believers can be forced to tread without having a “substantial burden” on their beliefs. The non-profit cases will continue litigating that issue on a parallel track, though we might hope that the Supreme Court in Conestoga and Hobby Lobby would save itself a lot of future work by emphasizing that it is none of the government’s business to tell nuns and Christian colleges what practicing their faith should mean to them.


KJLWhat’s the most important takeaway from today – for religious liberty, for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood?

BOWMAN: The government wants to demolish any obstacle, even religious freedom, that might even marginally prevent it from forcing Americans to be personally complicit in the full abortion agenda of Planned Parenthood.


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