Every once in a while the most powerful shaping force in our country's political scheme, the Supreme Court, hands down a decision that sets a precedent and charts a course for the entire country. And by it's very nature, the court rules on what it believes is right or wrong. The court becomes the national moral conscience in many ways.
A few significant examples of these:
- 1803 Marbury vs. Madison (created judicial review allowing Court to overturn legislation deemed unconstitutional)
- 1857 - Dred Scott v Sanford (ruled slaves were property)
- 1896 - Plessy v Furgeson (affirmed racial segregation under "separate but equal" doctrine)
- 1954- Brown v Board of Education (overruled Plessy vs. Furgeson)
- 1966 - Miranda v Arizona (created policy that citizens must be informed of rights, including right to be silent, before interrogation)
- 1973- Roe v Wade (ruled a woman had a constitutional right to an abortion based on her right to privacy)
- 2013 - United States v Windsor (marriage cannot be defined solely between a man and woman)
The case with which the court is presently engaged is another potential "landmark" case in regards to religious liberty in our country. The owners of two for-profit businesses (Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp) are suing the federal government over the birth control mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act. The bottom line for these owners is they feel the government is forcing them to give up their religious liberty as business owners by requiring them to provide certain kinds of birth control they consider early forms of abortion (day after pill, etc.).
The big question under consideration is this: Does a business have the same right to religious freedom as individuals? In 2010 the court ruled that corporations have the same freedom of speech guaranteed individuals in the First Amendment. But can a corporation have the same freedom to express religious conviction and operate according to those convictions? This is the BIG question. Pay attention to the term corporate personhood. When you hear it, this is what they are talking about.
Hobby Lobby is basing their suit on federal legislation passed in 1993, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This legislation provides that an individual's religious expression shouldn't be "substantially burdened" by law unless their is a "compelling government interest." The court must first decide if this law applies to a business and then decide if the provisions of the law are being violated by the Affordable Care Act in regards to these two specific corporations.
A HUGE question to settle regards the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Has Congress established a law that prohibits an individual's (in this case the business owners) free exercise of religion. If the supreme court rules in favor of the business owners, then certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act would seem to need to be revisited by lawmakers. If the court rules against the owners, then it would seem that where religious conviction and the abortion issue collide in regards to health care, a Christian owner of a larger business will have to concede his or her conscience on the matter if they want to be in compliance with the law.
The Supreme Court, I believe, ultimately reflects the moral developments of the culture at large. Over time, the sentiments of majority tend to work their way into the legal arguments. And sometimes, these arguments get quite creative to justify the ruling. The Hobby Lobby case is a critical case our court is now deliberating. As a Christian I will pray for this decision and for the nine men and women who will make it. I hope you will too. The implications and further applications of the decision will be far reaching one way or the other.