WHAT OTHERS SAY: Hobby Lobby lawsuit pits religious liberty against government rules

Friday, March 28, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Hobby Lobby is the kind of business President Barack Obama says he loves. The family-owned company is successful, and its owners treat their employees like family. They receive better pay and benefits than many others in retail jobs, including wages well above the federal minimum.

But through Obamacare, the Health and Human Services Department is requiring all businesses to provide a wide range of contraceptives free of charge to employees through their insurance plans. Part of that requirement goes against the religious beliefs of the family who owns Hobby Lobby, and they've brought a lawsuit against the Obama administration.

The company was founded by David Green in a garage in 1972. The family business has grown into more than 556 stores in 41 states with 16,000 full-time employees. Hobby Lobby pays its hourly employees 90 percent above the federal minimum wage and offers them generous insurance and retirement plans for a retail chain.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case. This case was combined with a similar one out of Pennsylvania. The Greens are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal and educational institute.

The contraceptive mandate has created an uproar throughout the Catholic Church and beyond to the private sector. So far, 94 cases have been filed challenging the mandate — half are from for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby. The rest are from nonprofits. Eleven of the lawsuits are out of Michigan.

And the Hobby Lobby owners do offer birth control to employees in their insurance plans. It's the drugs and devices that may induce an early abortion that they object to — only four out of 20 contraceptives the Obama administration wants employers to include.

Lori Windham, a Becket Fund attorney who is representing Hobby Lobby, says the law is on the side of Hobby Lobby. For instance, in a decision last June, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the religious rights of the Greens. Many of the other businesses and organizations challenging the mandate have had similar favorable rulings.

"We are hopeful," Windham says. If the Green family doesn't win, Windham says this will set a "very disturbing and troubling precedent" that if you open a family business you forfeit your religious rights. And with that precedent, there would be few limits as to what the government could tell companies to do.

In a country that was founded on protecting basic, individual freedoms, that would be a significant setback — not to mention an affront to the Constitution. ...

Churches are exempt from the mandate, but the administration didn't rule out religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and colleges. ...

The Supreme Court should uphold the ability of people like the Greens to run a business without violating their conscience.

Copyright the Detroit News. Distributed by the Associated Press.

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Ellis Smith March 28, 2014 | 9:43 a.m.

It will be VERY interesting to find out what the Supreme Court decides - not simply which side "wins," but the RATIONALE given by the judicial majority.

U. S. Constitution, Amendment I: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF, ..."

Does that mean we must void "Obamacare" in total? NO. It suggests that a revision might be made. (I agree with Mark Foecking that we do need to let so-called Obamacare go into implementation, then consider INTELLIGENTLY-MADE alterations, if or as needed.)

We should temper Amendment I in actual practice. For example, we might want to reign in religions whose avowed creed is to physically harm people.

But in the case sited, what physical harm comes of the ability to choose one's customers? Are there no business competitors*? And if a business is economically hurt by assuming such a stance, it should be willing to bear the adverse consequences.

*- It seems patently obvious, as with the late Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics, that the state itself could create situations where there would BE no competitors, except those allowed by the state.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 28, 2014 | 10:23 a.m.

Ellis: I agree.

In my retirement, I've taken to ACTUALLY READING Supreme Court decisions. The intelligence (and eloquence) of the justices, whether I do or do not agree, is striking. This opinion will certainly be of interest to me.

In this particular case, I think the decision is a toss-up. But, personally, I will be offended if the justices rule against the owners of Hobby Lobby. I simply do not agree that I or anyone else forfeits rights (religious or otherwise) just because a door is opened for business. If the owners lose, I hope they are sufficiently well-off to just....quit. Pack it in. Fold up.

I would. How do I know this is what I would do? Because twice in my life I've made similar VERY costly decisions NOT in my financial self-interest...simply to honor a principle in which I believed.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 28, 2014 | 11:25 a.m.

Reminds me of a historical situation where the GOVERMENT attempted to restrain free trade by its citizens by acting against a minority of its citizens. Those citizens were deemed by those running the government to be a "race," but they also qualified as a religious group. (The assertion they are a race is absurd.)

The physical attempt, in early 1933, lasted ONE DAY. The vast majority of the populace AT THAT POINT IN TIME wouldn't cooperate. Whatever they thought of the group of people, they were not about to stop commerce with them.
Of course things subsequently changed.

(Report Comment)

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