Don't Tread on Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court is about to issue its ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, what's at stake in these two cases is American religious liberty itself. America was founded on the principle that every person has the right to live her faith freely without fear of punishment, guaranteed by the First Amendment. The exercise of one's conscience is an exercise in religious liberty, since our views of right and wrong are grounded in our understanding of Who God is and what He demands.

Longstanding legislation prohibits laws that substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion, except if the government shows that the burden furthers a compelling interest using the least restrictive means. In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood it seems unlikely that the government has successfully shown a compelling interest for imposing a burden that limits the religious freedom of the American people.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out at the oral argument in late March to Solicitor General Donald Verilli, who represented the government, it was the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that wrote what was required to be covered under "preventive" care services, not Congress. At the time, Justice Kennedy asked: "What kind of constitutional structure do we have if the Congress can give an agency the power to grant or not grant a religious exemption based on what the agency determined? … When we have a First Amendment issue of this consequence, shouldn't we indicate that it's for the Congress, not the agency to determine that this corporation gets the exemption or that one?"

Family businesses, jobs, and healthcare plans will be impacted by this decision. Fines are $100 per employee, per day adding up to $36,500 in fines per employee annually. The Green family employs over 18,000 people in 569 stores and could face crippling fines of $657 million per year if the Supreme Court rules against them. The Hahn family employs nearly 1,000 people and could face fines of up to $35 million per year. During oral argument, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan suggested that they could "choose not to provide health insurance at all" and instead pay the $2,000 penalty per employee, per year. This is a non-option. Paying a lesser fine in order not to violate one's conscience would not make the whole thing more palatable. Why should a family business owner have to pay a fine or a tax in order to continue to operate a business without violating his or her conscience?

These crippling fines would make it extremely burdensome for a family business to keep its doors open. It is a job killer. Even if a company's owners chose to pay the fine so as not to violate their conscience, their employees would remain uninsured, inevitably funneling them straight into the Obamacare insurance exchanges. Family business owners do want to provide healthcare for their employees – they just don't want to be coerced by the government into providing drugs and devices that can destroy a human life. Is that too much to ask?

This may come as a shock to some, but the Greens and the Hahns already provide coverage for contraceptives. However, they cannot in good conscience provide or pay for items that may destroy a human embryo at its earliest stages, including Plan B, Ella and two IUDs. It is absurd that Justices Sotomayor and Kagan would suggest that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood drop healthcare for all of their employees over a handful of potentially abortifacient drugs.

The government has no right to force family businesses to violate their consciences. In America we all have the freedom to live and work and the government should not impose mandates that force families to violate their faith in order to earn their living.

Between 50 to 100 million people are already exempt from the HHS mandate (p.15). With so many exempt, the Greens, Hahns, and other family businesses should not be pressured by the government to violate their consciences by submitting to an unlawful and unfair mandate. They, along with 300 plaintiffs in over 100 lawsuits, are awaiting the Supreme Court's decision.

The Supreme Court must rule in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Our constitutionally protected, God-given religious liberty is at stake.