Amicus Briefs Filed on Both Sides of Hobby Lobby Religious Freedom Case

Barbara Boland | January 30, 2014 | 8:05am EST
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View of the Supreme Court from near the top of the Capitol Dome on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

( - Ahead of oral arguments in a critical religious freedom case, people on both sides of Obamacare's individual mandate are filing friend-of-the-court (amicus) briefs arguing that two private companies -- Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties -- either do or do not have the right to refuse birth control-sterilization-abortifacient coverage in their health insurance plans.

The U.S. Supreme court will hear both cases on March 25.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all employers to provide birth-control coverage in their health-insurance plans, under threat of fines – but the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga say the government is compelling them to violate their religious beliefs as Christian business owners.

According to a brief filed Wednesday by the conservative Thomas More Law Center, "These religiously-objecting employers cannot pay for, or otherwise facilitate, the use of life-ending drugs and devices without forsaking the dictates of their faith. Thus, the government is forcing individuals and families to either use the companies that they have built and run consistent with their religious beliefs, to fund drugs and devices that violate tenets of their faith, or to watch as their companies, and all the jobs those companies provide, are destroyed by crippling fines. The government may not command such an impossible choice."

Another brief, signed by more than 30 Christian theologians and pastors, including Rick Warren, Wayne Grudem, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Ravi Zacharias – argues that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the government "shall not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion.”

But the government argues that corporations do not have the right to “a person’s” religious beliefs. The question before the Supreme Court is whether private
businesses can have protected religious rights.

“Situations like the one Hobby Lobby is facing throws into sharp relief the problems that can arise when the Christian doctrine of work is not properly understood,” said Hugh Whelchel, executive director of Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.

“We as Christians cannot compartmentalize our worship from our everyday lives, and this is something that needs to be preached more often in our churches as well as understood in our courts.”

“Religious exercise is not confined to the home, to church, or to non-profit activities with expressly religious purposes,” Erik Jaffe wrote in the amicus brief submitted on behalf of the Family Research Council. “Rather, it can be present in all aspects of living one’s life faithfully, including the commercial aspects of life. The decision of the businesses in this case to adhere to, and affirmatively advance, the religious principles of their owners and themselves in the operation of their businesses reflects long-held religious tenets regarding the interaction between faith and work.”

The Family Research Council's brief notes that Catholic teaching sees no difference between an individual’s private and commercial activity; both are considered governed by one’s religion. “Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” Jaffe asked.

On the other side of the argument, 91 U.S. House Democrats and 19 senators filed separate briefs this week in support of the federal government.

The House brief argues that Obamacare's individual mandate does not violate the free exercise of religion, because it doesn’t require Christian business owners to take contraception themselves if they have religious objections.

“The contraceptive coverage requirement does not substantially burden any exercise of religion in which the Corporations might be found to engage because it does not compel the Corporations to administer or use the contraceptive methods to which they object, nor does it require them to adhere to, affirm, or abandon a particular belief," the House brief states. "It merely requires the Corporation, like other for-profit employers, to provide comprehensive insurance coverage under which their employees may make their own personal decisions whether to use whatever form of contraception, if any, best suits their individualized health and wellness needs.”

Sens. Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, and 14 other Senate Democrats also filed an amicus brief in favor of the government’s position, contending that when they signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, they did not intend it to apply to for-profit corporations.

“It is not correct – indeed it is not fathomable – that the bipartisan group of legislators who worked to enact [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] would intentionally have advanced legislation to transform free exercise [of religion] from an individual right to a corporate benefit, from an individual’s shield to a corporate sword,” their brief states.
"This gross misapplication of RFRA creates a situation where a person’s right to freely exercise her religion is freed from the undue interference of government—but is newly subjected to the undue interference of her employer."

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