Hobby Lobby case: Religious freedom's worth more than $35

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On June 30,  the United States Supreme Court  ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that if you like your God, you can keep your God, even if you run a business.

The Obama administration tried to require that  health plans provided  at work  cover  contraception  and morning after pills, no matter what an employer’s religious convictions.  The Green family,  owners of Hobby Lobby craft stores and a chain of Christian bookstores, provide insurance but refuse to  cover morning-after pills such as Plan B and Ella, because  these drugs violate their religion.


The Obama administration insists that  saving women $35 for the Ella pill  outweighs protecting  an employer’s religious liberty.   Democratic politicians hyped this battle as Armageddon for  women’s reproductive  rights.  Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President,  fanned the flames, accusing  employers of  “trying to take this right away from women.”

Nineteen  U.S.  Senators and 91 members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, filed briefs supporting Obama’s legal war against Hobby Lobby.  Senators Patty Murray and Barbara Boxer  said the    outcome would decide “whether a CEO’s personal beliefs can trump a woman’s right to access free or low-cost contraception under the Affordable Care Act.”

Nonsense.   Women have a constitutional right to use birth control, but there is no “right” to get it at work.  Nor does the Affordable Care Act guarantee that health plans cover it.    ObamaCare would not have passed with such a guarantee.

Section 2713 of ObamaCare requires plans to  cover services the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force rates as A or B.   Birth control didn’t make the list.   The law also gives the  Health and Human Services  Secretary  -- a presidential appointee –discretion to add other requirements, and  Secretary Sebelius did.  (The next administration could undo that.)

Shockingly, Justice Elena Kagan  declared during oral argument on March 25  :  “Congress has made a judgment and Congress has given a statutory entitlement and that entitlement is to women and includes contraceptive coverage.”  Wrong, Justice Kagan. Did you forego reading the law, like most members of Congress?

For Justice Anthony Kennedy, , the fact that ObamaCare  does not mandate birth control coverage  was  decisive.   During oral argument, Kennedy said it was  inconceivable Congress would allow a government agency – the Department of Health and Human Services --   “the power to decide a First Amendment issue of this consequence.”   The First Amendment guarantees freedom to practice religion.  Who is Secretary Sebelius to negate that?

It’s the Greens who have federal law  on their side --  the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which is supposed to limit how government impinges on  religious practice. That law requires government to choose the least burdensome method of achieving its goal, which in this case could mean distributing  morning after pills at DMVs or post offices rather than burdening employers.

Obama’s lawyers  claimed that  the Green’s freedom of worship  does not extend to their incorporated  business.  But for the Greens , there’s more to religion than praying. They run their business according to biblical principles, closing on Sundays, refusing to haul beer even when their trucks run empty, and excluding morning- after pills.

During oral argument, Justices Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, suggested there was nothing contradictory about religion and business.   Alito asked what would happen if Congress passed a law similar to a recent Danish enactment that bars slaughtering animals while they are conscious.  Would Jewish  and Muslim  butcher shops be allowed exemptions?

Justice Kagan  asked whether  a victory for Hobby Lobby would invite more challenges to the government’s  mandated benefit package. .  “So one religious group could opt out of this and another religious group could opt out of that and everything would be piecemeal and nothing would be uniform.”   Kagan apparently prefers a dismal  uniformity  with everyone in lockstep obeying government mandates.

Democrats insist that  Hobby Lobby ruling  will deprive women of “access.”  That’s a  straw woman.  The expensive part of getting birth control is visiting the doctor for a prescription, and all health plans, including Hobby Lobby’s, offer that.

The Court had to choose between  respecting religious freedom vs. $35 for a “free” morning after pill.

Wisely the Supreme ruled that freedom is worth more than that.