State Versus Faith: What’s at Stake in the Hobby Lobby Case

A 9 to 5 Editorial, June 2014 

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide  Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a case that will clarify whether business owners can express their religious beliefs through their business policies. But there’s so much more at stake.

Here’s the issue. Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of arts-and-crafts stores, objects to providing the so-called “morning-after pill” to its employees as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (the “Obamacare” law). The company already provides generous health care benefits to its 13,000 full-time employees and will more than comply with the required minimums in the new law, but its owner, David Green, a devout Christian, will not pay for the pills that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. If life begins at conception, Green reasons, then the pill causes an abortion.

The trial court ruled against Hobby Lobby, fining Green $1.3 million per day for non-compliance, beginning January 1, 2013. The Tenth Circuit reversed and now it’s in the hands of the nine Justices. A decision is expected in late June.

It’s the highest profile of many recent state-versus-faith cases, several of which involve Christian entrepreneurs who decline to participate in same-sex weddings—florists, photographers, deejays and bakers.

Here’s one example: In August, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a Christian photographer and business owner, Elaine Huguenin, cannot refuse to take pictures at same-sex “commitment ceremonies.” Here’s another: Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, declined to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. The couple sued, the state intervened and in December, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge ruled that Masterpiece must prepare wedding cakes for gay couples.

Case closed? Not yet. That judge didn’t know Jack, a man who will go to jail before compromising his faith. And it just may come to that—a U.S. citizen incarcerated in America for practicing his faith.

It’s nothing less than a secular Inquisition. In response, legislators in nearby Arizona passed a bill to protect the religious liberty of business owners, permitting them to refuse transactions that contravene their faith. Missouri, Georgia and Kansas have similar bills in the pipeline.

Predictably, many in the media were apoplectic, single-mindedly framing the Arizona bill as “anti-gay,” “bigoted” and a return to the days of “no blacks allowed.” And through this narrative, more opinion-shaping than reporting, they browbeat Governor Jan Brewer into vetoing the bill.

However, the situation is so different in degree from Jim Crow that it’s different in kind. These Christian business owners don’t want to turn away gay customers; that money is as green as any other. They simply don’t want to contribute in any way to the gay marriage movement. So they’ll sell you roses, just not for a wedding. And they’ll sell you cupcakes and birthday cakes, just not a wedding cake. Homosexuals can buy 99 percent of the products at Masterpiece Cakeshop. Hardly “no gays allowed.”

The real agenda here is “no faith allowed.” It’s happened in the public schools; now it’s happening in the workplace. And the tactic is an old one: Hijack the discussion and blame the believer. “Justify your bias,” says the reporter. “Explain your discrimination. Repent of your ignorance. Be tolerant of those who disagree with you.” They conveniently ignore that the logic cuts both ways. Justify your bias against Christians. Explain your discrimination against people of faith. Repent of your ignorance of the First Amendment. Be tolerant of those Christians who disagree with you.

One wonders what the media would say about a black baker being jailed for refusing to cater a KKK rally or an Israeli lawyer being fined for not representing neo-Nazis. The violation of conscience is equally egregious.

There’s more at stake, though, than mere single-mindedness and double-standards. If the law requires business owners, under threat of state punishment, to abdicate their bona fide religious beliefs, then we are adopting a new form of governance—one that’s more Pyongyang than Peoria.

And one with sweeping implications. An adverse ruling in the Hobby Lobby case—or any similar religious liberty cases—means that private, faith-based schools and colleges will be next. Their hiring and enrollment policies could be subject to the same agenda-laden litmus test as other private business that, under Hobby Lobby, would be stripped of Free Exercise rights. Does the school “discriminate” in the eyes of some politically-appointed judge? If so, cease and desist or close your doors. Even if they could possibly win on appeal, what Christian school has the resources to fight the ACLU?

Also in the crosshairs will be pastors. Preach that the practice of homosexuality is sin and be slapped with a gag order, a fine, and maybe some jail time. An exaggeration? Look at Sweden if you want a crystal ball. Pentecostal pastor Ake Green was prosecuted and sentenced to a month in prison (eventually overturned) for preaching against the practice of homosexuality. Look also at Canada where William Whatcott has been arrested repeatedly and fined thousands of dollars for his street teaching on the issue. The charge? “Hate speech.”

If you don’t like what the Bible says, criminalize the sharing of it. Canada, not Iran.

Ultimately we’ll see the coup de grace, the closing of churches that refuse to marry gay couples. It’s almost inevitable since the principle is the same: You can’t deny some “customers” service because of your faith. Couldn’t happen? Look at Denmark where in 2012 the Parliament voted 85-24 to compel its Lutheran churches to perform same-sex weddings.

This is why the Hobby Lobby case matters so much—and not just for business. If we live in a country where we can’t express our faith through our business, then we may someday live in a country where we can’t express our faith at all.

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