(Photo: Brandon A. Cox)
The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a ruling today in the rather controversial Hobby Lobby religious liberty case. It was extremely significant in that it ultimately upheld the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and made it clear that closely held corporations cannot be separated from the individual identities of their owners. I, along with many other Christians, are elated that the decision went the way it did. It will be used to uphold religious freedom for individuals (acting as individuals and on behalf of their business entities) for decades to come.
As I've read comments and heard the opinions of "progressive" Christians, I think there exists a lack of knowledge about why so many religious people (I think evangelicals, Catholics, and many religious Jews as well have seen the merits of this decision) see this decision as a "big win." While you are more than welcome to disagree, and I hope to write my own opinion in a respectful tone, I wanted to share from the heart of one Pastor why I'm excited by today's decision.
First, you should know that I'm a Baptist who identifies strongly with ancient Anabaptists on issues of religious liberty and the separation of church and state, a phrase you would never have heard of had it not been for Thomas Jefferson's conversation with a Baptist congregation. (The phrase is a comment on the First Amendment but is not found in any official government document.)
This may explain my reluctance to jump into other discussions of a political nature as a Pastor. While I have my own opinions about fiscal issues, gun control, and a range of other topics, I'm quite careful as a Pastor to speak to those issues that I feel matter the most in the conflict over the age old question posed by Pilate, "what is truth?" When our very worldview is challenged, which is the foundation of our witness, it's time to speak in a firm but loving voice.
What concerns me most isn't that people on the political left disagree, but that Christians seem to be side-tracked so easily into debates that miss the point. This case isn't about contraception or whether birth control is right or wrong. It's not about the access women have to affordable health care. The Court rightly clarified that there are other ways that the Affordable Care Act could have provided for these without forcing this religious liberty issue. It isn't about whether Hobby Lobby's products are made in China or not. It's not even about the science behind contraception and which pills may or may not cause abortions.
The Hobby Lobby case can be boiled down to this issue... should a person or group of persons (such as the Green family) acting as their own business entity be coerced by the government to foot the bill for anything it decides is morally objectionable, within good reason? And the Court said, "No."
I believe the Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case is a big win for religious freedom because it respects the foundational principle underlying the First Amendment itself. The church should not step into the role of the government, but citizens by all means may serve as the government's informal conscience and speak their convictions in the public square. Our constitution upholds the freedom of all people to live by the government of their own conscience, regardless of what their religion is, so long as their conscience does not directly conflict with the stated purposes of government.
We can argue about contraception, or the science of Plan B pills, or the role of corporate personhood, or the possible hypocrisy of a company's stand elsewhere, but the Court was right (in spite of being divided 5-4) in its decision. Religious liberty matters, for all people, of all faiths, Christian and otherwise.
You have the freedom to work where you want, shop where you want, and use legal prescription medications as your physician prescribes them. And the Green family may abstain from paying for insurance coverage for contraceptive methods they deem unethical.