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A Supreme Court Case With Surprising Implications

On Tuesday, March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. The Court will not rule on the cases for another few months, but the oral arguments were a critical part of the decision process.

What are the implications of these cases for Christians? The Court’s decision will impact religious liberty in America, shed light on how the government views work, and determine whether private enterprise is truly private.

First, here’s some background. According to the Affordable Care Act, all for-profit businesses must provide healthcare packages that include coverage for all forms of contraception.

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation are both private businesses that are owned by Christians. The owners of these companies want to provide insurance to all of their employees and they are fine with covering most contraceptives.

They don’t think, however, that they should have to provide certain contraceptives designed to end “life created after conception” because this violates their conscience and goes against their religious beliefs.

On the other side, the government argues:

The federal government has never afforded for-profit corporations the religious protections Hobby Lobby says are being violated by the contraception mandate. Additionally…women are also entitled to protection for their freedom to choose their own health coverage.

So, what’s at stake here?

Religious Freedom and Right of Conscience

Should owners of businesses be able to dictate what insurance policies their businesses offer? Doesn’t this restrict the freedom of their employees? While that is true, an employee can always seek different work. Business owners can’t get around a government mandated, one-size-fits-all insurance package policy.

Another question is whether a business can “exercise” a religion at all based on the principles of its owners? Again, while employees can choose to work for a different company if they disagree with the principles of their current place of employment, business owners are tied to their business. If the business truly belongs to them, should they not have a say in what principles their company abides by?

The Sacredness of Work

The government is exempting explicitly religious non-profit organizations from having to cover contraceptives, but it is not allowing for-profit business to opt out in the same manner.

[pq]This is a conversation that hinges on work as an act of value creation, service, and worship.[/pq]

In doing this, the government is making a false distinction that is inconsistent with the Christian doctrine of work.

Christians believe that all work is an important act of worship because it allows us to cultivate God’s creation and serve others. If Christians are worshiping God as they work, they need to be allowed to abide by their religious beliefs during this time. But if they are providing someone with the ability to do something that they believe is sinful (paying for employees to end human life through certain types of contraception), they themselves are sinning.

This applies to CEOs, pastors, cashiers, and factory floor workers equally. Distinguishing between these professions is unjust and illogical. Even worse, it prevents Christians from integrating their faith with what they do nearly every day.

How Long Will Private Enterprise Be Private?

Jay Sekulow writes:

If the United States government can force the people running a corporation to use corporate resources to provide free abortion-pills to employees (especially when contraceptives are cheap and widely available on the open market), it is difficult to imagine the meaningful limits on government power in the marketplace.

Private enterprise is crucial for economic development and human flourishing. It is responsible for most of the goods and services we enjoy and it is where innovation and change occur, as entrepreneurs experiment to create better products. It is where different individuals can use their different strengths and interests to work together and make the world a better place.

If the government can stipulate what benefits packages companies must offer their employees, where will it end? Will this be one step further down the road of regulating and de-privatizing the businesses that shape society?

This court case is about so much more than money, health insurance, contraception, or even religious freedom. This is a conversation about the place of markets and business in society, a conversation that hinges on work as an act of value creation, service, and worship.