HHS Mandate, Religious Freedom

Hobby Lobby’s Injunction Ruling a Major Victory for Religious Freedom

Image credit: heritage.org

There are currently 63 separate lawsuits against Obamacare, and two which are currently dominating headlines.  One, brought by Liberty University, has made its way to the Supreme Court.  Liberty University cites religious freedom as one of many major flaws with the law, but its actual lawsuit is more strongly rooted in other aspects of the law, like the fact that the Supreme Court had deemed it a tax, though the bill had been largely written in the Senate and all taxation must start in the House of Representatives.

The other one has been gaining more traction, though it is not yet in the Supreme Court.  This one was brought by Hobby Lobby, a large arts and crafts chain owned by a religious Oklahoma City based family.  The same family also owns Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores.  Their suit argues that business owners should not be forced to fund products or services they oppose on a moral or religious level.

In particular, it revolves around the requirement that employers provide employees insurance covering contraception which prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg, such as the morning after pill, IUDs, and week-after pill.  Some people feel that this is a form of abortion, even if they don’t oppose other forms of birth control which simply prevent the fertilization of the egg, like the pill or condoms.

Exemptions to this aspect of the employer mandate have been made for purely religious organizations, but for-profit businesses are specifically not exempted.  The idea behind this lack of exemption is that even employees of religious businesses should have the right to forms of birth control the owners of the business disagree with.  The government’s lawyer in the case also argued that individuals’ constitutional rights do not necessarily extend to businesses.

Opponents, however, say that this effectively forces any business, from corporations to family business owners, to choose between their livelihood, following the law, and following their beliefs.  US Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) told the Heritage Foundation “No American should be forced to choose between their deeply held, reasoned beliefs and the law.”

The idea that religious organizations should be exempted from the rule, while religious business owners should be forced to comply also gets to a more fundamental issue with the definition of freedom of religion in this country.  If Friday’s ruling had been against Hobby Lobby, and if future ones are, it would indicate that the government’s definition of “freedom of religion” is “freedom of religious organizations to exist,” rather than “freedom of people to live their lives according to their own beliefs.”

That’s a fundamental difference, and in many ways, it means this case is not only for the religious freedom associated with Obamacare, but for the heart and soul of the First Amendment’s statement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Friday’s ruling granted Hobby Lobby a temporary injunction, meaning that it will not have to pay fines for refusing to provide insurance for such forms of contraception until further court rulings.  The 10th Circuit said last month that Hobby Lobby was likely to win its case against Obamacare in the Supreme Court, so now the government has until October to figure out if and how it will proceed with its case.  In his ruling, Judge Joe Heaton said that Hobby Lobby had “drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable.”

The issues of religious freedom in Obamacare extend beyond the scope of the law to fundamental definitions of and issues regarding freedom of religion in America.  The cases, especially Hobby Lobby’s, seem to be proceeding with a good degree of success, so it is quite probable that the most damaging aspects of the law, at least constitutionally, will be overturned or at least minimized.

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