ERLC to court: Mandate violates companies' religious freedom
Court to hear arguments March 25
Feb 3, 2014

BP graphic by Laura Erlanson
WASHINGTON (BP)—The Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate violates a federal law protecting the religious freedom of for-profit corporations and their owners, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has told the U.S. Supreme Court as part of a friend-of-the-court brief.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission signed on to the brief filed Tuesday (Jan. 28) in support of Hobby Lobby and other family owned businesses that have conscientious objections to a regulation that requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs for their workers. 

The ERLC-endorsed brief was one of more than 50 filed the same day with the high court on behalf of the companies. Among the other briefs was one signed on to by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; its president, Daniel Akin; Southern Baptist megachurch pastor and author Rick Warren; Southern Baptist professors; and at least one other Southern Baptist pastor.

The briefs urging invalidation of the abortion/contraception mandate, which is a rule implementing the 2010 health care reform law, came in cases that have been consolidated for March 25 arguments before the Supreme Court.

The briefs ask the justices to uphold a lower court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby and its sister corporation Mardel, Oklahoma City-based retail chains owned by the pro-life evangelical Christian Green family. They also call for the justices to overturn a ruling against Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania business owned by the Hahns, pro-life Mennonites. 

ERLC President Russell D. Moore, in a Jan. 28 podcast, said the justices' ruling will be "impactful for all our people in our churches for probably the next 100 years, regardless of what the court does."

Akin, in a written statement, said the Hobby Lobby case is "a critical issue that impacts freedom of conscience and religious liberty and conviction.... Christians everywhere should pray for God to move on the hearts of the justices of the Supreme Court to make the right decision."

The ERLC-signed brief, written by University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, contends Congress clearly understood the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to provide "universal coverage," including to for-profit companies and their owners. It also argues that larger religious liberty traditions -- including state and federal conscience rights laws -- are consistent with protecting for-profit corporations.

The ERLC, Moore said in a written statement, "is proud to stand with a broad coalition of allies committed to religious liberty. Our participation in the Laycock brief signals our confidence that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was designed to protect everyone -- including those operating businesses.

"We're in this because religious liberty isn't a government grant, but a human right grounded in the image of God," Moore said. "Our Baptist forefather [and 18th-century religious freedom champion] John Leland wasn't content to trust politicians with tyranny over the conscience. We are his sons and daughters, and we will carry the banner of soul freedom to the Supreme Court and beyond."

A major question the Supreme Court will consider in the case is whether owners of for-profit companies can exercise their religion in the conduct of their businesses. 

In a July ruling against Conestoga Wood, a divided three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said for-profit secular organizations "cannot engage in religious exercise." A month earlier, however, the 10th Circuit in Denver rejected the Obama administration's argument that protections under RFRA do not extend to for-profit companies. The 10th Circuit ruled that corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel "can be 'persons' exercising religion for purposes" of RFRA.

The Obama administration's stance "appears to be that once they incorporate, the Greens and the Hahns have no religious rights that a government is bound to respect," according to the ERLC-endorsed brief, which the Christian Legal Society (CLS) organized and filed. "The corporation can be required to do absolutely anything, and the individual owners who carry out the corporation's work have no religious-liberty right to complain."

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