Opinion: Why the Hobby Lobby Hubbub Matters

Can the government require Christians to observe a business practice that compromises their faith practice?

“This is the way the world ends,” wrote American-English poet T.S. Eliot, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” Buried somewhere in the top news stories of the day—“U.S. Marine Pens Response to Gun Control Bill,” “Cat Arrested at Brazil Prison,” “Father of India Gang Rape Victim Reveals His Daughter’s Name,” “Candlelight Vigil Planned in Boulder for Slain Bull Elk”—you might have read about Hobby Lobby.

No? That’s not surprising, since many of the major networks have remained largely silent on the issue. Yet this “whimper” of a story might be one of the most significant legislative decisions in our time. Lest you think I overstate my claim, let’s take a look at Hobby Lobby’s case and what’s actually at stake.

What’s at stake in this case is whether or not the government can force private business owners to act against their religious convictions.

As of today, the Green family, the evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby Creative Centers and Mardel Christian Bookstores, potentially owes the federal government $21.3 million in fines for defying the HHS mandate that requires all companies to provide insurance coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, surgical sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, including “the morning after pill” and “the week after pill.” According to the Greens, since these drugs interfere with implantation in the womb, they destroy human life in the earliest stage of development.

In September, the Greens filed a lawsuit against the federal government, stating, “These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith ... We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.” In addition to the lawsuit, they requested an injunction to defer the $1.3 million (approximately $100 for every employee) daily penalty while their case made its way through the courts.

On November 19, Judge Joe Heaton in Oklahoma denied the company an injunction, stating that Hobby Lobby and Mardel “are not religious organizations” according to the definition proposed in the mandate but are secular, for-profit businesses that employ and serve both Christians and non-Christians. The company appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and a panel of three judges denied the appeal for similar reasons. The company then took its request to the Supreme Court, where Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer also denied the request, stating it was not “indisputably clear” that the case met the requirements for an emergency injunction.

“Today, the government has tried to reinterpret the First Amendment from freedom to PRACTICE your religion, to a more narrow freedom to worship." —Rick Warren

The HHS mandate allows religious exemption if the organization meets the following criteria: (1) its primary purpose is to promote religious values; (2) it primarily employs persons of the same religion; (3) it primarily serves persons of the same religion; and (4) it is a nonprofit organization under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.

The underlying merits of the HHS mandate is not what’s at stake—that has yet to be determined. What’s at stake in this case is whether or not the government can force private business owners to act against their religious convictions.

If a privately owned company is paying for health care, should the federal government have a say in what is covered? There are three reasons why Christians and non-Christians alike should be concerned about the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

1. Let's define "religious."

The religious exemption proposed in the HHS mandate is so narrow that the vast majority of faith-based organizations—including Catholic hospitals, charities, colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations—fail to meet the criteria. In a post for Libertyblog, Dan Smyth argues that in order to avoid a breach of our first amendment rights, we must adhere to what the Founders would have understood to be a “religious” organization. According to Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the most widely used dictionary at the Constitution's ratification, Smyth says the Founders understood religious employers to be simply employers who, in any way, are disposed to religious duties or teach religion.

Further, Johnson defines “religious” as “pious; disposed to the duties of religion" and "teaching religion," with "to teach" taking such definitions as "to instruct; to inform" and "to deliver any doctrine or art, or words to be learned.”

Since the Greens are devoutly religious people who close their stores on Sundays, play Christian music in their stores and sell some religious-themed items, they would be classified as “religious” according to the understanding of the Founding Fathers. Redefining what is a “religious” organization results in a breach of First Amendment rights.

2. Whose responsibility is it?

Second, some critics claim, “No employers in the private sector have the legal right to force their employees to obey their employer's religious beliefs.” The Greens do not oppose their employees using emergency contraception; they just oppose paying for it. The Greens don’t oppose birth control or even their employees’ right to use emergency contraceptives like “the morning after pill”—they simply don’t want to implicate themselves in what they believe is morally wrong.

To force them to comply with this mandate interferes with the Green family’s right to practice their religion. As Rick Warren said, “Today, the government has tried to reinterpret the First Amendment from freedom to PRACTICE your religion, to a more narrow freedom to worship, which would limit your freedom to the hour a week you are at a house of worship.”

3. The timing matters.

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Third, some will say that in the grand scheme of things, the cost of this legislative ruling is fairly low—it hardly matters. Whether the Greens eventually cave to the federal government or whether they pay all the way to their financial grave, it is, after all, just a single company. And besides, some may say, the matter of emergency contraceptives is morally ambiguous anyway.

But in most cases, freedoms have not been lost or won overnight. As James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” said, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not one agrees with the Greens convictions or not. You don’t have to be Christian to understand that this ruling is potentially a watershed moment in our nation’s history. If we, as a free republic, don’t stand now for the freedoms afforded us in our Constitution, who will be next?


Kevin Davis


Kevin Davis commented…

Render to Caesar what is Caesar's. Can you imagine how immoral taxes paid to Caesar were?

Darren Cowdrey


Darren Cowdrey commented…

I'm concerned about the slippery slope of allowing religion to keep a company from covering its employees. If that becomes a loop hole, won't a lot of companies suddenly find Jesus to avoid taxes? And how would we stop others from inventing other 'religions' for the same reason? We could find ourselves in the tenuous place of trying to define a religion to regulate this loop hole. Best to keep this separate.

Amy Reyes


Amy Reyes commented…

This is absolutely a case of first amendment rights which cannot be trumped by legislation - as all legislation must meet the test of Constitutionality. Granted, with the social activist court that Obama has in place, they may not see it as such, but that doesn't make it any less true. It only makes America that much more fallen away from the ideals of freedom on which we were founded. Employees have the CHOICE not to give their time and talent to an organization like Hobby Lobby, if they disagree with their stance on abortion. They also have the CHOICE to pay for these things out of pocket (none is prohibitively expensive, I know from experience). What they do not have is the "right" to demand that their employer go against their religious beliefs to pay for these services (even if that payment takes place through the middle man of an insurance company). Frankly, if you believe in the first amendment at all - this should enrage you! That's not being alarmist - that's just fact. Just think of the consequences, if the government can force an individual who owns a company to pay for things that are against their beliefs, then why couldn't they say the same of any individual? Or of any faith? It's not a Christian issue, or even a pro-life issue here - this is a First Amendment, essential freedom issue.

Ashley Hall


Ashley Hall replied to Amy Reyes's comment

It's simply false to call the Supreme Court "Obama's Court" when five of the judges are Conservative and have made some of the most conservative activist decisions in years (ie Citizens United; strip seaches). Then again, I forgot it's okay when the court makes Conservative activist decisions when they violate basic human rights because they're on God 's side.

Also, based on your religious freedom stand I'm sure you are perfectly okay with a Christians Scientist who runs a large company to deny health insurance to their employees, or a Scientologist boss to deny paying for psychotropic meds, even in severe cases. I'm normally not a fan of slippery slope arguments, but it is pure hypocrisy to support one thing, and not the rights of everyone else.

Jeff Foxx


Jeff Foxx replied to David Foreman's comment

Technically she didn't say "Supreme Court". This decision was made at District Court level, to which Obama has appointed over 140 judges. This particular judge, Joe Heaton, though was appointed by Pres. George W. Bush. HMMM.. maybe W appointed the activist court. OR.. here's a crazy notion, maybe some judges don't see everything as blue and red.

Erik Pasco


Erik Pasco commented…

I am morally opposed to killing innocents with drones. I pay my taxes. Some of my money is going to kill innocent lives. Should I then refuse to pay my taxes?

The moral imperative is on those who use abortive contraceptives, not those who pay for it. If we are going to live in a society that shares financial resources to operate, there are bound to be instances of our money being used for something we are morally opposed to.

I wish that those who are sounding the alarms over this Hobby Lobby case would see that they are not being consistent with their ethic and that others see through the hypocrisy.

David Foreman


David Foreman replied to Ashley Hall's comment

Good luck, Erik, with pointing out the inconsistencies of the religious right. They are legion.

Connie Almony


Connie Almony commented…

I am not nearly as concerned about how our president has overstepped on this issue as I am at the complacency many have toward it. So we obey the law because the government made it? Was that what Corrie Ten Boom should have done when Hitler came for the Jews? After all, Hitler was the government there. If you believe it is a life in the womb, you protect it as such! Did the early Christians walk up to the Roman Emperors and say, “I’m a Christian. Open up my insides and pull out my entrails. After all, I broke the law.”? I don’t think so! And no! This is not about INSURANCE providing “health care” (which remember, the Christian business man considers the opposite of health), it’s about forcing the individual to provide something he believes is a sin to his employee. The Bible says doing so, in itself, is a sin. The government should NOT be forcing people to do what they believe is sin. This is a slippery slope indeed! Ask yourselves why you are “okay” with this. Is it that you really don’t care or that you don’t want to get involved? Don’t want to stand up for what’s right? Don’t want to get mocked by what appears to be the mainstream? Jesus was mocked and beaten because He cared for us. He wanted us to live! Get some guts, people!!! There was a time we fought against abortion. It seems we’ve thrown our hands up on that one and are just hoping to get the measly right not to have to pay for it. What?! If you don’t see a slippery slope, what would you call one?!!!

Ashley Hall


Ashley Hall replied to Connie Almony's comment

First of all, the slippery slope is considered a logical fallacy by most. This should not be your only argument.

Also, the religious right got all over Clinton for being a draft dodger. The draft is in essence forcing men, pacifists and Quakers included, to fight and kill others, innocent included. Not to mention, it is a social justice issue because poor people were not able to buy themselves out like richer people were. This is, to me, a gross violation of religious rights the Moral Majority had no problem with. If that is not hypocracy, I don't know what is.

Also, am I the only one who is getting sick of the Hitler comparisons? I hated when people did it to Bush (despite really disliking Bush, who's wars violated the Bible as well), and I hate it just as much when it's done to the guy voted for.

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