WASHINGTON – Advocates of religious freedom and family values who had gathered outside the Supreme Court today greeted the Hahn and Green families of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby as they came to the building’s snow-capped steps to give statements after the court heard oral arguments in their high-profile cases.
“Rather than sacrifice our obedience to God, my family, the Green family, and many others have chosen to take a stand to defend life and freedom against government coercion,” declared Anthony Hahn, CEO of Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Mennonite.
The two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, challenge the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide a health-care insurance plan that includes no-cost access to all forms of contraception, including emergency abortifacients such as Plan B and ella.
“We didn’t choose this fight,” Hahn said. “Our families would have been happy to just continue providing good jobs and generous health-care benefits. But the government forced our hand.”
Hahn said the “choice that the government has forced on us is out of step with the history of our great nation founded on religious freedom.”
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, both privately held companies, assert that paying for emergency contraceptives such as abortion pills violates their religious beliefs, both as corporations and as people.
The question before the court is whether for-profit corporations have a right to exercise religious freedom by refusing to comply with a government mandate to pay for “other people’s life-ending drugs.”
The families appeal to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, RFRA, which states that government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
‘Prayerfully await’ decision
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, told the crowd outside the Supreme Court today that no American “should lose their religious freedom just because they open a family business.”
“We are thankful the Supreme Court has heard our case and we prayerfully await the justices’ decision,” she said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R, Texas, in an impromptu speech to the crowd, said the case had nothing to do with a right to birth control.
“No one is doubting that any person, if they choose to use contraceptives can do so. This is not about that,” he said. “This is about the federal government, whether they can force people of faith to violate their own faith by paying for something that is contrary to the dictates and teachings of their faith.”
Cruz filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief along with Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah and David Vitter, R-La., earlier this year in defense of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.
Corporations that don’t comply with the mandate can face fines of $100 per day per employee, which could force businesses such as Conestoga Wood, which employs 1,000 people, to shut down.
“We never thought we’d see a day when the government would tell our family we couldn’t run our business in a way that affirmed the sanctity of human life, when government would force us to be complicit in the potential destruction of human life. But sadly, that day has come,” Hahn said.
Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., emphasized the importance of the case in a speech on the House floor last night.
“Family businesses should also have the freedom for their religious liberty rights. It’s only fair,” she said. “Nothing, quite frankly, could be more important and more basic to Americans than standing on our First Amendment rights of free speech and religious expression.”
Bachmann said what’s at stake “is not just the rights of employees who work at businesses but also moral rights.”
Burden on individuals?
Briefs filed by the Obama administration in the case argue that the RFRA was intended to protect individuals, not corporations. But even if corporations are covered by the law, the administration contends, it does not put a substantial burden on the corporations owners because the companies, not their owners, provide the insurance.
Both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are family-owned businesses that asserted in briefs the law requires them “to do precisely what their religion forbids them or face … millions in fines, private lawsuits and government enforcement actions.”
David Cortman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the government “has no business bullying family business owners into paying for other people’s abortion pills, which are widely available at low cost.”
“The Constitution guarantees the highest form of respect to the freedom of families like the Hahns,” he said. “It’s absurd for the government to argue that disregarding the Hahn family’s freedom is necessary when it already exempts 100 million people from this unjust mandate.”
In the case of Hobby Lobby, which employs 13,000 people nationwide, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver found the company was covered under the RFRA ruling.
The appeals court decision was based in part on the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission landmark case, which said that corporations have the same political speech rights as individuals.
In contrast, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that Conestoga Wood must comply with the contraceptive mandate.
Today, a majority of the justices apparently agreed that the family-owned businesses that objected to the requirement were covered by the RFRA. That means the government must show the requirement is not a substantial burden on religious expression and that no other ways exist to provide contraceptive coverage to female workers.