Christian Living

Hobby Lobby Case: Are Religious Exemptions Unconstitutional?

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 03/25/2014

Robert George and Hamza Yusuf argue against the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s claim that religious exemptions made for the sake of religious freedom (such as in the case of Hobby Lobby) are actually unconstitutionally establishing religion:

The robust conception of religious freedom that has served our nation so well is now being challenged in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which will be argued before the Supreme Court on March 25. Hobby Lobby (a chain of arts and crafts stores) and its owners, the Green family, are seeking a religious exemption from parts of ObamaCare’s contraception and abortion-drug mandate. Their Christian faith forbids them from paying for insurance coverage for the provision of four drugs and devices that may act to terminate newly conceived human lives. Although the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that an exemption is required under federal civil-rights law, the government has asked the Supreme Court to compel the Greens to violate their consciences—which they will not do—or suffer crippling fines.

Some of the government’s supporters—like the Freedom From Religion Foundation—have offered the high court in an amicus brief an even more extreme argument. They claim that the whole practice of religious exemptions constitutes an unconstitutional “establishment of religion,” at least when protecting religious minorities deprives others of the chance to benefit from these minorities’ forced service....

This argument misunderstands both the nature and purpose of exemptions as protections for religious beliefs from majority coercion.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly—and unanimously—rejected the claim that policies enacted to vindicate free-exercise rights by accommodating religious beliefs and practices violate the Establishment Clause.... These Supreme Court rejections make sense, because the same First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of religion also expressly protects the free exercise of religion. It would be illogical to treat protections for religious exercise as establishing someone’s religion....

The argument against exemptions would be plausible if such laws only protected religious believers of one faith, or if the laws stipulated that religious interests should prevail in every case in which they competed with other interests and values. But the federal civil-rights law at issue in the Hobby Lobby case—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—protects people of all faiths. Exemptions are not automatic, because the government is always permitted to show that it has compelling reasons to deny the exemption. Historically the government has often met this burden and won the case.

Read the rest of the article: “Religious Exemptions Are Vital for Religious Liberty.”

(HT: Dustin Steeve)