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The U.S. Supreme Court will release its decision soon in lawsuits involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two family owned businesses who have challenged the Obamacare mandate requiring employers to pay for contraceptives that cause abortions for their employees.
The businesses object to paying for four of the 20 types of contraceptives the mandate requires employers to provide because of their belief that they cause abortions.
The mandate threatens the existence of these businesses which employ more than 14,000 people.
In the case of Hobby Lobby, the fine for failing to comply with the mandate is as much as $1.3 million per day.
The plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court to find the mandate unconstitutional claiming it violates their First Amendment Right to the free exercise of religion and their Fifth Amendment right to due process and equal protection under the law.
In its decision, the Supreme Court will first determine whether a for-profit corporation can “exercise religion”.
While it is undisputed that individuals have the right to the exercise of religion (though there is much debate about what that means as well) the government is arguing that corporations cannot claim the religious freedom protections at all.
In essence, the Obama administration believes the government can force Hobby Lobby to do things they could not force the Green Family, owners of Hobby Lobby, to do if they did not have a business.
Of course, the Green Family sees their business as an extension of themselves and do not believe they surrendered their right to make decisions consistent with their faith once they built a business and started employing people.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the families that corporations can claim religious freedom protections, the court will then decide if the mandate restricts their religious freedom. If they conclude that it does, the court will then decide whether the burden is justified by a “compelling government interest” in providing contraception and whether there is a way to accomplish the same goal without restricting religious freedom.
Put another way, “could the government make contraceptives available to employees in a way that did not take away people’s religious freedom?”
The answer to that question is almost certainly, yes.
As with the florists, photographers, and bakeries, these cases are just another example of government attempting to force people to do things that violate their conscience as a condition of doing business.
Religious groups and business owners should not have to violate their faith in order to be in compliance with the law. Nor should families have to choose between their faith and their livelihood.
People of faith do not forfeit their religious freedom when they choose to start a business.
Some argue that they don’t understand the big deal about providing contraceptive coverage for employees, but that is beside the point. It’s not the role of government to define what people believe or what our faith includes. That’s the role of the church.
If the left is going to really care about the separation of church and state, they will stay out of the business of telling individuals and companies what their faith requires.
It is worth noting that the government has exempted 100 million employees from these mandates for commercial and political reasons. But for companies that want out of the mandates for conscience reasons, the government is arguing that there is a “compelling government reason” to force them to comply.
While our ability to influence the Supreme Court’s decision in this case is limited, we have significant influence over the future of religious freedom in Washington State and around the country generally.
There are elections this fall in every part of our state, and we encourage you to ask those who are on your ballot how they feel about religious freedom. Do they support these mandates against businesses that don’t want to pay for contraceptives that cause abortions? Do they support lawsuits against small businesses like Arlene’s Flowers because of their belief about marriage?
Then allow their answers to inform your vote. Make sure your friends and neighbors who care about religious freedom know whether the candidates on their ballot support religious freedom as well.
The lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers could be done away with in a single legislative act, but the legislature will only protect religious freedom if the people who elect them insist on it. That means those of us who support religious freedom need to be the squeaky wheel, in the most pleasant way possible.
To paraphrase the lesson from the Little Red Hen, if we don’t help protect our religious freedom, we should not expect to enjoy the benefits of it. And given the aggressive nature of those wanting to take away religious freedom, if we do nothing, we can be quite confident we won’t.
by Joseph Backholm, president of the Family Policy Institute of Washington
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