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Religious Liberty & the Supreme Court: an Educated Guess

Predicting the future is a hazardous business; predicting people however is much easier. I will hazard a guess at what ruling the Supreme Court will hand down on the landmark Obamacare/religious liberty case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. I think Hobby Lobby will lose but the ruling will be very narrowly tailored so as to apply only to very few businesses. And I’m kind of okay with that.

In a nutshell, Hobby Lobby is pressing the Supreme Court to grant them an exemption from (or–ideally–declare unconstitutional) Obamacare’s mandate that employers must provide their female employees’ contraception. Hobby Lobby claims it is a Christian business and that certain contraception they are legally required to pay for violate their religious beliefs (they consider some forms of contraception to be abortion, like the “morning after” pill). You can read more about it here.

It is generally recognized that in this country we have religious liberty (unless you are a wedding photographer, but I digress). That is to say that the government cannot restrict our religious beliefs or practices or force us to violate our religious beliefs. The owners of Hobby Lobby thus contend that it is unconstitutional for the government to force the Christian owners of said business to conduct un-Christian business practices.

I think the Supreme Court is going to rule against Hobby Lobby in this case. Allowing businesses to ignore certain portions of the law due simply to the owners’ claimed religious beliefs is a very slippery slope and I think the Justices know it would be foolhardy to try to navigate that minefield. For instance, could you claim that paying taxes is a violation of your religion and therefore be exempt from paying any taxes? Where does religious liberty begin and end? Where is the law absolute and where is it negotiable? If my reasoning is valid, and if my guess is proven correct, then I will actually be content with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

That being said, do not for one moment think that I am happy with the idea of government forcing businesses to provide their employee’s contraception, or healthcare of any kind really. In my ideal world, employees and employers would work out health insurance, salary, work conditions, etc. on a case by case basis. In my ideal world, Hobby Lobby would tell all its prospective employees “We will not pay for your contraception.” and those who don’t like that can work somewhere else or pay for it out of pocket. In my ideal world, people would have religious liberty; people would be free to worship any god or gods they choose (or worship no god for that matter) and would be free to worship their particular deity in any manner they see fit, and live their life by whatever moral code they choose SO LONG AS they do not violate anyone else’s rights by doing so. So, human sacrifice? Illegal in my world, unless the sacrificee happens to be a consenting adult or Elizabeth Warren–I’d happily sacrifice her if need be.

However, we do not live in my ideal world. In my ideal world, you would never need exemptions from the law to protect religious liberty because the law would never violate religious liberty in the first place. However in the world we do live in, I think that because we are discussing a business rather than an individual in this case, liberty will have to yield to government force this time. If we are going to have statism and the accompanying sense of legalistic “justice” we may as well ask for consistency, but that doesn’t mean we have to be happy with the status quo.

As long as I am in the habit of trying to predict the future, I will make one more prediction. No matter who wins or loses on Monday, when the Supreme Court render their decision, the Left will see this issue as a women’s issue (i.e. a blow was struck for/against women’s access to contraception) and The Right will see this purely in terms of religious liberty, when in fact both are right and wrong at the same time. This is about freedom and the role of government. Can businesses be free from government force? Does the government have the right and the duty to mandate who will provide what to whom? Until we start seeing the issues of our day through this prism, the prism of freedom, we will always languish under statism no matter who is elected.

-SL

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