Breakpoint: Hobby Lobby: Religious freedom on the docket
by JOHN STONESTREET
BreakPoint

Article Date: Apr 4, 2014

STONESTREET
On Tuesday, March 25, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case. In the days leading up to the arguments, two of the nation’s leading newspapers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, ran pieces that illustrate what’s at stake in the case and why religious freedom is threatened.

The Times piece got off to an inauspicious start by telling readers that Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and its companion case, Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, “pits religious liberty against women’s rights.”

Apparently the Times is unaware that many of the people opposing the HHS mandate, most famously the Little Sisters of the Poor, are women. Or if they are aware, they must believe that these women are “fronts” for “patriarchal forces” who are calling the shots.

It gets better. And by that I mean worse. The Times then tells readers that the ruling could potentially have consequences for “laws barring discrimination against gay men and lesbians.” It quotes former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger who says that “A win for Hobby Lobby could turn out to be a significant setback for gay rights.”

Now it’s true that if Hobby Lobby prevails, a sufficiently broad ruling might apply to cases like the one in New Mexico involving a Christian wedding photographer. But to call this a “significant setback” tells us more about the mindset of gay rights supporters—that it’s all about them—than it does about the possible impact of a favorable ruling.

As Richard Garnett of Notre Dame Law School put it, views like Dellinger’s are “unfounded.”

As Garnett says, the case isn’t about “discrimination or denial of service.” Instead, it’s about “deeply held views regarding the sanctity of life” and how our polity accommodates those who hold these views.

The ability to accommodate these beliefs, as Robby George and Hamza Yusuf wrote at the Wall Street Journal, has created “one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth,” where people of diverse faiths live together “in a harmony that would have been unthinkable in most of the world for most of human history.”

Throughout American history, they tell us, this accommodation has taken the form of “exemptions to people who need them in order to be true to their religious faith.” These “exemptions protect people in situations where legislative or executive acts might otherwise unnecessarily force them to violate their consciences.”

These exemptions have protected “Quakers who cannot fight in wars, Muslims who cannot transport alcohol, and during prohibition, Catholics and Jews who use wine in their religious rituals.” More recently, they have protected “conscientiously objecting people . . . from being forced to participate in wars, assisted suicide, abortion or prisoner executions.”

The tolerance that has served American society so well is what’s at stake in the cases before the Supreme Court. Many supporters of the HHS mandate aren’t content with making Hobby Lobby pay for abortifacients; they want to do away with religious exemptions altogether. They have actually argued in their amicus briefs that the exemptions violate the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion!

While George and Yusuf point out just how wrong, legally-speaking, that idea is, the fact that its proponents feel that it might fall on receptive ears at the Court shows us just how threatened religious freedom is.

Which is why we should all be praying for a favorable outcome at the Court.

 

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