Shorter HHS Mandate: Violate Your Conscience or Pay Crippling Fines

Tomorrow Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. will be argued before the Supreme Court. The Court will determine whether the Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion for families who own and operate a for-profit business according to their religious values or whether they can be coerced by the federal government to violate their deeply held beliefs in exchange for going into business. David and Barbara Green started Hobby Lobby in their garage in 1972 and have sought to run their business “in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” Their case has been combined with another case brought by Conestoga Wood Specialties, a company owned by the Hahn family who seek to run their business according to their Christian beliefs. The Greens, the Hahns, and all Americans have the right to live and work according to their convictions, and a favorable ruling for Hobby Lobby at the Supreme Court would protect the liberty of all Americans.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is the law at issue in the Hobby Lobby case. Passed with broad bipartisan support in 1993 and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, it provides a framework for balancing religious beliefs with compelling government interests. If business owners seek an exemption under RFRA, the government has the opportunity to show it has compelling reasons to deny the exemption and impose regulatory burdens that “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion.

Abortion Inducing Drugs

The Administration has argued that they simply want to provide woman coverage for “preventative care.” But there are many ways for women to access contraceptives without the federal government forcing business owners to violate their conscience.

As Robert P. George and Hamza Yusuf point out in the Wall Street Journal (sub. req’d), the Green family is seeking a religious exemption from Obamacare’s contraception and abortion drug mandate because their “Christian faith forbids them from paying for insurance coverage for the provision of four drugs and devices that may act to terminate newly conceived human lives.”

Although the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that an exemption is required under federal civil-rights law, the government has asked the Supreme Court to compel the Greens to violate their consciences—which they will not do—or suffer crippling fines.

George and Yusuf go on to argue that Hobby Lobby should win the case and the federal government should lose. Among their reasons they note:

there are so many ways for the government to distribute these drugs—on its own exchanges, through the Title X family-planning program and by cooperating with willing distributors—that do not require the forced participation of conscientious objectors.

This court case is not about limiting a woman’s freedom to purchase or use contraceptives. In fact, as Sarrah Torre notes, Hobby Lobby actually will pay for coverage of contraception. They only object to 4 of the 20 contraceptives mandated by the Obama Administration, namely, the 4 that act as abortion inducing drugs or devices.

Moreover, all women, including Hobby Lobby employees, would continue to have access to contraceptives if Hobby Lobby wins its case at the Supreme Court. As the Heritage Foundation explains:

Employees also are free to work for the Greens and either pay for additional services out of pocket or purchase supplemental insurance.

The Greens, however, can’t escape the HHS mandate. It is not just an assault on religious liberty. It is an assault on an idea as old as the nation: that the government can’t lightly force us to give up our most deeply held beliefs as the price of earning a living. Every American has an interest in being protected from such assaults.

And an assault it is. Because of the anticonsience mandate, the Green family could face fines of up to $1.3 million per day.

What’s Really at Stake

Considering the relative ease with which women can access birth control in the U.S., and the massive burden the HHS mandate is to employers like the Greens, it’s clear the Obama Administration’s agenda here is about something other than birth control. As the Heritage Foundation’s Sarah Torre explains:

The Obama administration has made one thing very clear: that your faith is a private affair. You can follow your beliefs, exercise your faith in your home your house of worship, but step outside those four walls to build a business, to run a charity, and your religious freedom ends. We know that that’s not in line with the Constitution or federal laws protecting religious freedom.

Religious exemptions are not impossible, and historically, the free exercise of religion outside the four walls of a church has been respected in the United States. The Amish, for example, are exempt from participating in Social Security and are exempt from the individual mandate for religious reasons. As Robert P. George and Hamza Yusuf remind us in their WSJ column, George Washington excused Quakers from his army on religious grounds.

Our nation has historically been committed to the free exercise of religion, and a victory for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties at the Supreme Court would help continue that vital tradition.

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