U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of religious liberty

By Jeni Miller

The U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in the twin cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, June 30, ruling in favor of religious liberty.

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Demonstrators react to hearing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby case outside the court building in Washington, D.C., June 30, 2014. The Supreme Court says that “closely held” corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health-law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In the landmark case, the court ruled that closely held corporations (those with a small number of shareholders and offering no public stock, such as corporations that are family-owned and not operated by boards) can claim a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they provide health-insurance coverage for some contraceptives. These corporations, in other words, cannot be required to provide contraception coverage.

Since the decision was a narrow win of 5-4, understanding the dissenting opinions is important. The LCMS will continue in the days and weeks ahead to thoroughly read and understand the court’s decision and what it means for the future.

While the LCMS rejoices in this strong upholding of religious freedom, this decision does not signal an end to the discussion, said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison.

“This ruling simply emboldens us to carry on, doing what we do best as Christians: praying, confessing the faith and living it out in our daily callings,” Harrison said. “We pray that Americans, whose consciences are burdened because they have been forced to violate their religious beliefs, would know God’s comfort and forgiveness. We confess that life, which begins at conception, is a gift from God and ought to be held in the highest regard in this country. We live, knowing that the First Amendment guarantees us not only the right to worship, but also to practice our faith as Lutheran citizens of this great nation, serving our neighbor where the Lord has placed us.”

Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit has been one of the most high-profile of nearly 100 cases involving the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

In June of 2013, the Obama administration issued final rules requiring most employers to provide contraception at no cost. While there are exemptions for religious groups and affiliated institutions, there were none for private businesses with religious owners.

The Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain, owned by the Green family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties cabinetry company, owned by the Hahns, filed a federal lawsuit objecting to paying for the full range of birth-control drugs and devices required by the Affordable Care Act. To these Christian families, a handful of the methods they must cover could cause abortion.

In response, the administration asked the Supreme Court to decide if for-profit corporations can deny their employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

However, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.

According to Harrison, “The LCMS rejoices with the Greens of Hobby Lobby, with the Hahns of Conestoga Wood Specialties and with our millions of brothers and sisters in the United States who believe just as strongly in the religious liberties guaranteed in our Constitution. Today we are thankful for this step toward maintaining the integrity of our religious freedoms inherent in the First Amendment, but we will also remain ever mindful. The issue is and will continue to be purely and simply about religious freedom.”

Jeni Miller is interim public relations director for LCMS Communications.

Posted June 30, 2014 / Updated July 1, 2014

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20 Responses to U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of religious liberty

  1. Rebecca Pepper June 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    And when will Hobby Lobby remove the log from their own eye and divest the $73 million they hold in companies that manufacture the very same methods of contraception that violate their religious freedom?

    “Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

    Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have stock holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.”

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/hobby-lobby-retirement-plan-invested-emergency-contraception-and-abortion-drug-makers

    • Mike July 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

      I would be very skeptical of anything on the web and especially from a radical politically motivated site on either side of the question. From snopes.com

      “Although this information was widely touted as demonstrating hypocrisy on the part of Hobby Lobby, some aspects of it are uncertain. The reported information dates from 2012, and it’s not known whether Hobby Lobby has made changes to its retirement plan since then. Additionally, Hobby Lobby reportedly provides its employees with the option of making 401(k) investments in 24 different mutual funds, with each fund’s portfolio consisting of “at least dozens if not hundreds of different holdings.” How assiduously Hobby Lobby might have screened every single company included in the portfolios of dozens of different mutual funds, and whether they were aware that some of those companies had ties to contraceptive producers, is also unknown.”
      Read more at http://www.snopes.com/info/news/hobbylobby.asp#WJxKeXc4d0x4Sd2o.99

    • Tim K. July 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      First of all mutual fund investments can change daily. Mutual fund managers decide which stocks to buy or sell in the portfolio. Second, in the case of insurance, the company purchases the plan along with the employee’s contribution. Thanks to Obama Care the employer and the employee are forced to buy it or pay heavy penalties. By contrast 401K plans are employee’s retirement plans. Typically the employee is solely responsible for making the decision which mutual funds they would like to invest their 401K money. Although the employer may provide matching funds to the employee, it is still the employee who decides which funds to invest it in. Hobby Lobby does not wish to force their beliefs on their employees. They just don’t want to participate (directly purchase either in whole or part) in buying insurance that funds drugs that end human life. Of course Mother Jones tends to distort the truth to discredit those that don’t believe as they do.

  2. Carl Vehse July 1, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    A second case, Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. vs HHS, dealing with the HHS mandate shows the impact of yesterday’s SCOTUS decision.

    An article, “EWTN gets last-minute stay on HHS mandate after Hobby Lobby decision,” notes that because of the SCOTUS decision yesterday, the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals granted a injunction, pending appeal, against HHS enforcing crippling fines against EWTN, starting today, for their refusal to violate deeply help religious convictions and provide contraceptives and abortifacients. EWTN does not qualify as a religious employer.

    While the COA three-judge panel did not issue an opinion on the ultimate merits of the case to be appealed, Judge Pryor, in his concurrence, most certainly did (Pryor’s whole concurrance is worth reading):

    The Network has asserted, without dispute, that it “is prohibited by its religion from signing, submitting, or facilitating the transfer of the government-required certification” necessary to opt out of the mandate. The Network further asserts that, by requiring it to deliver Form 700 to the third-party administrator of its health insurance plan, the United States has forced the Network “to forego religious precepts” and instead, contrary to Catholic teachings, materially cooperate in evil. Midrash Sephardi, Inc. v. Town of Surfside, 366 F.3d 1214, 1227 (11th Cir. 2004). If it fails to deliver that form, the Network faces $12,775,000 in penalties a year. 26 U.S.C. § 4980D(b)( 1). If that is not a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion, then it is hard to imagine what would be. …

    It is neither our duty nor the duty of the United States to tell the Network that its undisputed belief is flawed. See Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., No. 13-354, slip op. at 36-37 (U.S. June 30, 2014). The Supreme Court has instructed that “it is not for us to say that the line [drawn by the religious believer] was an unreasonable one. Courts should not undertake to dissect religious beliefs. . . .” Thomas v. Rev. Bd. of the Ind. Emp ‘t Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 714, 101 S. Ct. 1425, 1430 (1981). The United States flouts that instruction by treating an undisputed religious belief as a disputed question of law. But “it is not for us to say that [the Network's] religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.” Hobby Lobby, No. 13- 354, slip op. at 37. We must instead “determine whether the line drawn [by the Network] reflects an honest conviction, and there is no dispute that it does.” Id. at 37-38 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
    [Emphasis added]

    • Carl Vehse July 2, 2014 at 8:30 am #

      It should be noted that Judge Pryor’s use (on p. 4) of the phrase, “reflects an honest conviction” refers to the recognition that EWTN’s stated objection reflects the undisputed religious teachings of the Catholic Church (whether or not government officials consider the teachings flawed or mistaken).

      In the Background section starting on p. 5, and particularly on pp. 7-8, the religious reasons are made very clear why EWTN adamantly refused to participate in the sheer hypocrisy of even submitting Form 700. The four specific reasons for opposing Form 700 are discussed on pp. 9-10.

      In Section III, Pryor goes on to discuss why he thinks EWTN will prevail in their appeal on the merits of their claim, basically arguing their case for them. Judge Pryor even chastises the 6th and 7th Circuit Courts for their denials of injunctions in similar appeals and rightfully refers to those Courts’ opinions as “Rubbish.”

      Again, Pryor’s whole concurrence is worth reading.

      • Harold July 7, 2014 at 11:57 am #

        Corporate entities are soulless. They can have criminal but no moral culpability. No corporation can end up in prison or suffer the consequences of Hell. Therefore, while the operators and leaders of an organization remain, individually, responsible for their personal behaviors and choices, those of the corporation have moral dimension. This does not mean that those operators and leaders cannot use the corporation to do things that are moral or immoral, only that the corporation has no such standing.

        Like the t-shirt says “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.”

        There are no “christian” corporations or nations, or peoples – only people who are Christian.

        Let’s not be naive. Every one of us supports corporate entities that line the pockets and advance the causes of the un-Godly and un-Christian. At least we should not be blind to it and pray to get through it with our salvation intact. In denying these facts and ignoring this aspect of the abundance in our society, where it comes from and how we relate to it, we bear false witness in every sense.

  3. Lynn July 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    I am very disappointed with LCMS.

    At first, I was shocked that President Harrison would align himself with Catholics and other male church leaders in testifying before Congress. I always prided myself that my church did not get involved in politics like so many other churches. We started to see this be less true with the election of Jerry Kieschnick. (I celebrated when President Harrison was selected.) Now, where are we going as a church body?

    If LCMS and President Harrison celebrates this decision – the decision that my boss has the right to get between me and my doctor – I will not be able to take communion any more at any LCMS congregation (since I would be guilty of the body and blood of Jesus Christ by partaking of this sacrament with people who believe differently).

    If the LCMS maintains that birth control is against the Word–something that I certainly was never taught in those years in Catechism–then the current LCMS is not the church that I can honestly associate with.

    The LCMS needs to make a statement. I truly need to know where we are going as a church body.

    • Tim Schenks July 4, 2014 at 1:21 am #

      Lynn, they’re not against birth control. Responsible family planning between a married couple is not in danger here. They are against abortion drugs.

      You’re proud that your church would sit back and ignore things that go against what they believe, teach, and confess? Really?

      • Tina Strickland July 5, 2014 at 7:22 am #

        And so which of those medications mentioned in the HL lawsuit is an abortifacient Tim? They are not. They are believed to be so because men who own a craft store believe they are so. Medical physicians don’t think they are and The National Institute of Medicine classifies them as contraception, not abortifacients. It is a sad day when we support a falsely held belief rather then minimally adequate medical care for all.

      • Jo Etta Hill July 5, 2014 at 10:31 am #

        But this was never about the use of abortifacients since no one is forced to take advantage of a coverage in their insurance policy that they disagree with. The issue is SOLELY economic in not wanting to pay for that coverage. I have an individually bought ACA policy that includes those same coverages, but I would never use that coverage so I don’t see it as a big deal at all.

        I very much doubt that a policy that Hobby Lobby or any other business bought that excluded coverage for abortifacients would be any cheaper than a standard policy that does include those coverages. It may well be more expensive since it would be a policy created uniquely for that one company.

        • Carl Vehse July 6, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

          Jo Etta Hill: “The issue is SOLELY economic in not wanting to pay for that coverage.”

          This claim is contrary to the Court’s statements on p. 2 of the syllabus and on p. 2 of the Court opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc..

          • Harold July 7, 2014 at 11:46 am #

            All premiums paid to insurance companies are fungible. Unless, the corporation is wholly underwriting its own health insurance policy, it is providing premiums and, therefore, funding for other companies and individuals purchasing abortifacients through the same insurance pool. All of us, here, and Hobby Lobby, will be paying for these services because we are all economically and socially entagled. All this comes down to, in reality, is some belief that more than a few cents a month had been coming out of someone’s pocket with an explicit agreement to provide such services on some contract and it is being waved around as a moral victory on behalf of liberty. But the money is still flowing to those who wish to use the abortifacients and Hobby Lobby, their customers and their employees are still paying for it.

            Fact is, we have the freedom to violate the whole Law of God and we act on that freedom in our sinfulness. It is only when we hear His voice and accept His will and His guidance in not exercising that freedom that we avoid sin.

            Moreover, sin originates in the desire to sin, not in the action of sinning. Nothing that is done through this decision diminishes anyone’s sin in desiring the use of abortifacients and nothing, here, witnesses to the Lord of Life. It simply says that someone refuses to see on paper what the facts are due to social and economic entanglement. we could do better with our time and talents than throw energy behind the cause of Hobby Lobby and words on paper.

    • Bryce July 5, 2014 at 6:56 am #

      It isn’t that we believe birth control is inherently wrong. Spacing out your children or delaying pregnancy until a more stable time is fine. The issue with birth control is when it is used to completely avoid God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply.”

      The problem with a number of the birth control methods mandated by the ACA is that they have the potential to destroy an embryo – which we very much believe is murder. In my edition of the Catechism, the explanation of the Fifth Commandment goes into how suicide, murder, euthanasia and abortion are all sins.

    • Harold July 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

      Take heart, Lynn.

      You heard correctly, that there is no prohibition on birth control, only the abortifacients, the drugs which can cause a conceived child to deliberately die. The reason there are contradictory medical testimonies is that there are contradictions in how various people rationalize the origin of human life.

      The court decision will have no effect save to say that Hobby Lobby does not have to fund, overtly, on paper, the use of these drugs. The Church’s direction and focus should be on the millions who are considering the use of such agents on themselves on others. The focus is in bringing everyone to Christ and embracing life to the degree that, if there is any doubt over the effect of such drugs, we err on the side of life and not try to rationalize. Only the Holy Spirit entering into a person’s life can create the change of heart than embraces life.

      This has no effect on your sharing the Sacrament with those of one belief as regards the Sacrament, the Law, the Creed, etc. Truth be told, Lutheran theology is not all of one mind in all its assertions and nuances, not even an entity such as the LCMS. Neither is any individual’s apprehension of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions perfect. Concordia is one heart, that means one driving intention, one motivating Spirit but, because we are all imperfect and insinuate ourselves into the process, there will be differences. We need only be sure that these remain minor differences and that we share embrace the simple truths. We can all move forward in one Spirit, as one body, with a core of doctrine.

  4. Paula July 5, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Hobby Lobby is a business, not a church or a religion. The Green’s are smart and educated, they know that the contraceptives they opposed are not “abortion drugs”. I believe a private business has every right to choose the benefits they wish to offer their employees, but you shouldn’t be allowed to change federal laws to pick and choose. This is a grant HL public relations scheme. Although I am proud that my church stays up to date with current events, I am saddened that they got involved with this right-wing propaganda.

    • Carl Vehse July 6, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

      Paula: “The Green’s are smart and educated, they know that the contraceptives they opposed are not “abortion drugs”.

      This claim is contrary to the Court’s clear statements on p. 2 of the syllabus and on p. 8 of the Court opinion in (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc.) about four FDA-approved contraceptives “that may have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.”

  5. Harold July 7, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Friends, I have always been proud and supportive of my denomination as one that focused on the Gospel and did not soil itself with the politics of this earthly kingdom. Now, I am saddened at not only President Harrison’s stance but that it is leading too many Lutherans away from the Gospel and toward a narrow-minded, right-wing activism and siding with Christians that many of these Lutherans would not have fellowship with in many other public arenas.

    The findings of this Supreme Court were expected, there was no suspense. What we need to recognize is that while the corporation’s owners are Christian, the corporation is not. We also need to recognize that this corporation’s owners, while insisting on restricting birth control in a most Christian way for the sake of not committing sin or supporting their employees’ sins, turn a blind eye to supporting abortion and forced state control of reproduction for the sake of profit. How? By making any purchase from China’s manufacturers. Shop for yourself and look at the labels.

    There it is the glory of global capitalism is that we are all complicit in the sins of others because we fund the sins of others through commerce. Our purchases pay wages to neighbors who have abortions. We buy health insurance from major providers, on our own and through employers – those premiums all go into one pot and fund abortions. Some of the money we spend on gasoline, the funds that hit the global oil market finds its way to ISIS and Al Quaeda. Because of globalism, we cannot separate ourselves from the sins of our fellows, blood is on all our hands.

    What greater evidence could there be for our deplorable condition under Original Sin? That we turn a blind eye to our complicity because it is out of our control. We are doing our best, supporting our families, so don’t remind us that these good things are tainted. Worse, we do not lay our loss of control on God or put it into His hands. Too often, we praise the economic system and society which gives us this blood-soaked abundance and offers no alternative.

    Further, we have opened the door to allowing, not religious freedom, but religious bigotry to enter in and compound our guilt. We need to accept that many of our brothers and sisters are not in our denomination and many whom God wishes us to reach are not living according to God’s word. We are also in a world where we live among non-Christians and must extend to them the very same loving kindness that we would to our fellows. Should we, instead of living a Christian life among them, isolate ourselves or send them to be part of a concentration of like-minded non-Christians? Is that evangelism? Is that reaching out to all God’s children, making disciples of all nations?

    Hobby Lobby has already supported efforts toward such bigotry through the ADF (especially Arizona SB 1062). When Christians come together, it needs to be in loving service to mankind. We are commanded to minister to body and soul. This does not mean soft-peddling the truth, but it does mean reaching out with love, not with a right to exclude, avoid, or shun. These are marks of anabaptism, New World fundamentalism, and cults – they are not marks of the true, Christian faith we profess.

    Our ministry is to turn hearts toward Christ’s work of salvation, the greatest expression of God’s love for us. Our desire is that no one seeks abortion, not through fear of reprisal or for lack of means, but through true allegiance to God’s gift of life and confessing that our bodies are not our own – we belong to our Creator to act as He wills, not as we will. None of this is accomplished through this court decision or through support of Hobby Lobby. The fight against abortion is about bringing people to Christ and ministering to them, body and soul, as Christ commands. We can do that both directly as individuals, as the Church, and, in this country, through our governance. How much more would we profit those contemplating surgery and abortifacients through love and action than through the courts and causes of the militant religious right?

  6. Carl Vehse July 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    Well, we’ve now been subjected to the smokescreen pejoratives of “narrow-minded, right-wing activism,” “the glory of global capitalism,” “blood-soaked abundance,” “bigotry through the ADF [Alliance Defending Freedom] (especially Arizona SB 1062),” and “a right to exclude, avoid, or shun.”

    The Reporter article on SCOTUS HL decision has spawned a number of comments filled with emotionally-laden leftist talking points, devoid of substantive definition, blended with rhetorical questions, occasionally stating the obvious, and spewed with the verbiage of religiosity reminiscent of “The Statement of the 44” and gospel reductionism.

  7. Carl Vehse July 7, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    Another article discussing the SCOTUS HL decision is “<a href="http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/07/symposium-no-free-lunch-but-dinner-and-a-movie-and-contraceptives-for-dessert/
    Symposium: No free lunch, but dinner and a movie (and contraceptives for dessert)?,” by Dr. John Eastman, Henry Salvatori Professor of Law & Community Service and former Dean at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law.

    Eastman raises six serious questions “that were not resolved or even addressed by the Burwell v./ Hobby Lobby, Inc. case, but perhaps should have been.” Eastman observes:

    “Some might see in this litany of questions a slippery slope to anarchy, to every individual becoming a law unto himself, but it actually poses fundamental questions about the very purpose of government and the legitimacy of the laws government enacts. We have become too much of an entitlement society even to see the underlying problem, but these mandates are not of the ’cause no harm to others’ variety that would render them legitimate (and would render individual exemptions from them problematic). They are instead of the ‘take from A to give to B,’ robbing Peter to pay Paul variety. That’s a purpose of government rejected by our founding charter, which defines the legitimate purpose of government as securing to each individual the inalienable rights they have from their Creator.”

  8. Rob July 7, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Harold, thank you.

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