By Josh Ely, Josh Noble and Andrew Ireland
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday to allow businesses to opt out of Obamacare's contraception mandate for reasons of conscience is a "rebuke" to President Obama, according to critics.
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Family Research Council Senior Legal Fellow Cathy Ruse says this case was not about reproductive health but about the larger ideal of religious freedom.
"The right to religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection is just one of those basic fundamental rights in our Constitution. It is embraced heartily by Americans and has throughout the centuries. It is
one of those freedoms where the individual gets to put his hand up and tell the government, 'No, you've gone too far,'" Ruse told WND.
"The court didn't create a new principle here. It sure upheld and applied one of the most cherished principles that Americans own and that is our right to conscience," she said.
Listen to Cathy Ruse's interview with WND:
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"This is a huge win for people of [conscience] and a stern rebuke for Obama and his HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, who have repeatedly overstepped their authority and attempted to strip Americans of their precious freedoms," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.
Newman said his organization has opposed the Affordable Health Care Act from the beginning because of its "funding of abortion and life-ending drugs" and expressed thankfulness that "Obama's tyrannical mandate, which ran roughshod over our religious freedoms, has been struck down."
Operation Rescue, a leader in the pro-life movement, once purchased a building that had been used as an abortion business to make sure it was not reopened.
"I was personally ready to suffer jail rather than to allow the government to force me to violate my deeply held religious beliefs," Newman said.
The court ruled 5-4 that a "closely held" corporation is exempt from Obamacare's contraception mandate.
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The case brought by Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet maker, focused on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects the beliefs of individual citizens.
The court said "business practices compelled or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the 'exercise of religion.'"
While the court ruling was not a sweeping First Amendment freedom of religion ruling required the owners "to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception."
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Pro-abortion activists were chanting at the Supreme Court just before the decision was released, "I am the pro-choice generation."
WND columnist and Barbwire.com commentator Matt Barber wrote that the decision "bodes somewhat well for religious liberty in the context of how Christian business owners who sincerely hold to the biblical view of sexual morality may (or may not) 'associate' with others who are engaged in the counter-biblical 'LGBT' lifestyle or other forms of sexual immorality."
He noted several lower courts have found that business operators are in violation of "anti-discrimination" laws because they decline to lend their artistic talent to same-sex marriage events. One baker in Colorado recently was ordered into diversity training because he refused to make a cake for a same-sex celebration.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the decision "protects the religious freedom that is guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment, and we're grateful the court ruled on the side of liberty."
"The central issue of this case was whether the federal government can coerce Americans to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, and thankfully the court has upheld the proper limits on the government's power," the RNC chief said.Listen to some of the comments:
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty had worked with Hobby Lobby on the case, and spokeswoman Lori Windham called it a "landmark decision."
"The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business," she said.
Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, issued a statement through the legal team.
"Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court's decision. Today the nation's highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country's founding principles," she said. "The court's decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, applauded the decision.
"The notion that religious freedom belongs only to some, and even then only in private, defies our nation's traditions, our laws, and our Constitution," she said. "And as the Supreme Court rightfully said today, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not have been clearer in saying religious liberty of all Americans must be equally protected and not unnecessarily burdened. That's why RFRA passed Congress overwhelmingly more than 20 years ago, and why it was so appalling when the Obama administration ignored the rights of Americans and violated the law by adopting this mandate."
He said the real issue was whether "the Obama administration can ignore the law and, in doing so, trample religious freedom. Today's decision reaffirms the supremacy of our nation’s laws and rights over President Obama's divisive agenda."
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, told WND, "Our concern is that the Obama administration has clearly moved from choice to coercion. They are determined to impose their radical political agenda on American businesses through the force of the state. Our mission moving forward is going to continue to defend this. And there will be more challenges that we will have to address. But this is such a big victory today that people should really take time to celebrate."
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told WND that she's calling on others to continue working.
"There are a lot of cases still pending … on this very HHS mandate, and it's not the end of the argument, and it's not the end for abortion funding," she said. "We have a lot still to do in our country"
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., called the decision encouraging.
"At its core, today’s decision was about the right of individual and family business owners to be free from government mandates that force them to deny their sincerely held religious beliefs. America was founded on the principle of religious freedom, and there is nothing more fundamental than the First Amendment. This decision represents a tremendous victory for the basic constitutional rights of every American."
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said it was a watershed moment.
"We thank the courageous Hahn and Green families for standing strong. They have had to endure the abuse of the radical abortion lobby and others who say they respect diversity but, in fact, endorse and impose conformity. Their message that women want free abortifacient drugs – and that they value these drugs above religious liberty – is demeaning to all American women and will be rejected by voters nationwide this fall."
David Cortman, senior counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which also has worked on the cases, argued Americans "don't surrender their freedom by opening a family business."
"In its decision today, the Supreme Court affirmed that all Americans, including family business owners, must be free to live and work consistently with their beliefs without fear of punishment by the government," he said. "In a free and diverse society, we respect the freedom to live out our convictions. For the Hahns and the Greens, that means not being forced to participate in distributing potentially life-terminating drugs and devices."
Anthony Hahn, Conestoga Wood president, said in a statement through his legal advisers: "We in the Hahn family want to thank everyone who supported us during this lawsuit. We wholeheartedly affirm what the Supreme Court made clear today – that Americans don't have to surrender their freedom when they open a family business. All Americans, including family business owners, must be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment."
Hahn said the legal effort wasn't only to benefit his company.
"The administration has gone too far in disrespecting the freedom of Americans to live out their convictions," he explained. "For our family and others like us, that means it must respect our freedom not to participate in the distribution of drugs and devices that can cause an abortion."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the mandate put the owners in a untenable position.
"The unfair HHS mandate gave family businesses two non-choices: either violate your deeply held moral beliefs and comply by paying for drugs and services to which you object, or pay crippling fines of up to $100 per day, per employee, for non-compliance. This mandate threatened the jobs, livelihood and healthcare of millions of Americans and forced those who stood up for their conscience, like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, to either comply or be punished," he said.
"Thankfully, the threat the HHS mandate imposed on Americans has been deemed unlawful today as a violation of core religious freedom rights. While we celebrate this landmark decision, it is our hope that lower courts will follow the Supreme Court's lead and protect non-profits like Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life and Wheaton College from the unfair HHS mandate."
The American Freedom Law Center also is fighting a case on behalf of an Ohio-based family business, Johnson Welded Products, and its owner, Lilli Johnson. AFLC spokesman Robert Muise said the decision was significant in that it stops Obama "and his secular progressive" administration from subjecting "our fundamental freedoms to arbitrary government power."
Mat Staver, chairman of Libery Counsel, previously argued that subjecting employers "to such extortion is antithetical to the free exercise protections recognized by the First Amendment."
"The Obamacare law seeking to force religious employers to promote genocide is the most outrageous assault on religious liberty and life in the history of America," he said.
Dr. David Stevens of the 15,000-member Christian Medical Association said: "We are witnessing increasing attempts by the government to coerce the faith community to adopt the government's viewpoint in matters of conscience."
Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal contributed to the conservation through Twitter: "@BarackObama is now googling 'Can an executive order override Supreme Court?'"
Peter Breen, spokesman for the Thomas More Society, said the precedent now is clear.
His organization is fighting a case on behalf of Autocam, a manufacturer of automotive supplies.
"We expect that the Sixth Circuit ruling against Autocam will be reversed, freeing the Kennedy family from having to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs in running their business," he said.
The other side, too, was vocal.
A statement released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task force called the decision a "dangerous precedent."
The group said: "Under the ruling, some corporations will be treated like religious institutions and these so-called 'religious corporations' will not have to pay for health care that they disagree with. So what happens if a woman needs birth control and their employers won't pay? What happens if a trans woman needs hormones and their bosses won't pay? What happens if a couple needs fertility treatments and the 'religious corporation' they work for won't pay? Yet again, another barrier put in the way of vital and affordable health care."
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., jumped on the bandwagon of those who equate employer-paid coverage with access to coverage.
"This ruling will deny women access to the health care services they need and their doctors prescribe. A woman's boss should never be the one to make health care decisions for her – these decisions should be between a woman and her doctor," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened that if the justices didn't do the job to "protect" women, "Democrats will."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it is the workers' religious rights to contraception that is now being injured, stating, "Allowing CEOs to limit the medical procedures available to employees is a gross violation of workers' religious rights."