“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. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith.” So stated Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, after the Supreme Court’s landmark June 30 decision.
By contrast, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her dissent that the court has “ventured into a minefield” in which their ruling could open the door to all sorts of discrimination by employers on religious grounds. What did the Supreme Court decide, and what does it mean?
By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” applies to privately held businesses as well. As a result, they determined that such businesses are protected from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that they provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health care benefits, if they object to some contraceptives on religious grounds.
For much more on this issue, its background, and its significance, see my essay on our website. Today I’d like to offer four brief reflections on the Court’s decision.
One: the ruling is good news for religious freedom. A large majority of Protestant pastors in America believe that religious liberty is under attack. Perhaps in the future this value will not be viewed as conflicting with religious pluralism, but rather as essential in our day of moral relativism and competing religious claims.
Two: by restricting its ruling to the specific cases at hand, the Court wisely intends to protect employees from discrimination by employers on religious grounds. Some worried that a Hobby Lobby victory could mean that employers could discriminate against vaccines, or divorced employees, or blood transfusions on the basis of religious objections. However, the Court applied the RFRA only to the government’s contraception mandate.
Three: I admire the Green family for their commitment to the sanctity of life. It would have been easier for them to refuse insurance for their employees, but they wanted to advocate for life, for their employees, and for religious freedom.
Four: the Court’s narrow decision does not settle the question of religious liberty. Before the ruling, only 35 percent of Americans agreed with Hobby Lobby. Religious freedom is one of those principles everyone supports until it comes at a personal cost. It’s easy to defend your right to free speech until you speak against me. It’s easy to defend an employer’s right to religious liberty until we disagree with the employer’s use of that liberty.
Our goal should be a free church in a free state. John Leland, a colonial Baptist leader, noted in 1791: “Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men, than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing.”
Freedom of religion, for religion, and from religion was the founders’ intent. The fight to protect this precious liberty continues, which is one reason we need a spiritual awakening so desperately. Our ministry is joining Anne Graham Lotz for “777 An Urgent Call to Prayer,” as we go to God from July 1 to 7 in repentance and intercession for our nation. I urge you to read Anne’s prayer for today, and make it your own.
As you do, thank God for the freedom of religion we enjoy today. And pray for that freedom to be protected and advanced in our culture and around the world, to the glory of God.