30 June 2014

Hobby Lobby, Corporate Personhood, and Religious Liberty

Today the Supreme Court handed down the highly anticipated decision in regards to two family-owned businesses claims that the contraceptive mandate within the Affordable Care Act violated their personal religious liberty.  In a 5-4 decision the Court ruled in favor of Green family (Southern Baptists) who own Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores, and the Hahns family (Mennonites), who own Conestogo, a company that makes cabinets.  The majority reasoned that the contraceptive mandate did violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.  The aim of that legislation was to prevent government from making laws that would substantially burden individual's in regards to their free exercise of religion (1st Amendment).  The RFRA does allow for the government to interfere in person's religious freedom if there can be demonstrated a compelling interest for the benefit of the whole.  In addition, if the government discerns a compelling interest that curtails religious freedom, then they must employ the least restrictive way in regards to the individual to accomplish its purpose.

In the Hobby Lobby case the Court decided that the government failed to show that imposing the contraceptive mandate at the owner's expense was the least restrict means of furthering its own interest in providing that form of health care to women.  In other words, the Court told the government to find another solution rather than tread on the religious consciences of these business owners.  Essentially, this is no different than the exceptions that have already been granted to religiously based non-profits like hospitals and schools.

Another big question in this case was whether or not a corporation like Hobby Lobby had the same rights as individuals.  The idea of corporate personhood was upheld for some corporations.  This decision was applied because these two businesses were defined as "closely held corporations" (i.e. family businesses).  The ruling doesn't necessarily apply to giant corporations.  Justice Alito, writing for the majority, stated, "Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies."  In other words, the business owner does have a religious freedom that should be protected from government laws that violate his or her religious conscience.  This is a huge ruling with broad implications. 

Of course, the dissenting judges and the left-leaning folks out there, believe the Court simply set up the proverbial slippery slope.  Now, it's simply a matter of time before every crazy religious group out there will start claiming this case as precedent to justify all kinds of dissent against laws they don't what to obey.  All I can say to this is, we'll have to wait and see.  Most of that rhetoric I believe is just fear mongering.  The decision made today was reasonable.

What we need to realize is that the contraceptives under scrutiny in this case (morning after pill and the like) will still be provided for employees.  The government will just have to figure out who gets to pay for it.  The Green and Hahns families will not be paying for it in their companies, but someone will.  And you've probably guessed it - the tax payer.

Like many other Christians, I'm happy for this ruling, but I believe it to be only the beginning of a continuing and growing collision of federal government law and personal religious liberty in regards to the social issues of abortion and homosexuality.              

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