When the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Tuesday concerning Hobby Lobby and the Affordable Care Act, it will be framed by many as a defining moment for religious freedom. But could this also be a case of Hobby Lobby getting on a high horse?
As the Affordable Care Act stands, a for-profit business like Hobby Lobby is required to offer insurance benefits for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay. Hobby Lobby’s owners have contended that some of those services, such as drugs that would prevent human embryos from being implanted in a woman's womb, contradict their Christian beliefs. (The case title is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. 13-354.)
Yet much more than the personal beliefs of Hobby Lobby’s owners are at play here. This is a larger public health issue, especially for low-income women, and so a Christian understanding of public health also comes into play. As 45 nationally recognized religious leaders – representatives of Protestant denominations among them – noted in a recently released joint statement, supporting universal access to contraception is a “moral good.” The statement goes on to say:
Including contraceptives as a covered service does not require anyone to use it; excluding contraceptive coverage for those who choose to plan and space their families with modern methods of birth control will effectively translate into coercive childbearing for many. We support social justice. We recognize the dignity and worth of each and every member of our communities—including those uniquely vulnerable to the effects of unequal access to healthcare due to race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or geography. We support religious freedom. Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them. We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions.
By seeking to deny its employees the opportunity to exercise their own religious freedom, Hobby Lobby’s owners are elevating their personal beliefs (Scripturally tenuous ones, I might add) above a “moral good” for society at large. In a pluralistic setting, that’s sitting on an awfully high horse.
Religious freedom should not put an onus on others who believe differently.
Religious freedom, after all, should not put an onus on others who believe differently. If anything, it should require those who are religious – particularly Christian - to bear a burden of some kind. Hobby Lobby actually offers a good example of this: in exercising their right to close their stores on Sundays because of their beliefs, the owners are sacrificing an entire day of profit. In this instance, religious freedom isn’t a benefit, but a cost of discipleship. When exercised with both conviction and humility, religious freedom protects us from having to sacrifice our faith. It may, however, also mean that we must sacrifice our desire to manage the faith of others.