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COMMENTARY: Let Americans follow their religious beliefs

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio.

(RNS) Like many startups, Hobby Lobby began in founder David Green’s garage. Now, more than 40 years later, the Green family business has 16,000 full-time employees in stores across the country with 70 new stores opening this year. They are a quiet family that loves God, honors their employees and enjoys serving people in their stores around the nation.

Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, speaks at the Religion News Writers Association Conference in Austin, Texas on Thursday (Sept. 26). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, speaks at the Religion News Writers Association Conference in Austin, Texas on Thursday (Sept. 26). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

But two years ago, the rules changed for every business. As of 2013, the Green family had to decide if they would follow their faith or follow the Obama administration’s new regulations.

The Green family, through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, will file its brief with the Supreme Court Monday (Feb 10) seeking relief from paying a daily fine of potentially more than $1.3 million for refusing to violate their biblically based views on life. They are currently not complying with insurance coverage requirements issued by the Department of Health and Human Services pursuant to Obamacare. Their opposition to the HHS mandate is not a frivolous one; it is due to their deeply held religious beliefs.

The Green family’s faith influences the day-to-day operation of their stores, including paying their employees a starting salary of $14 an hour, giving their employees family-friendly hours, closing on Sunday and offering their employees a generous health care package.

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio.

Photo courtesy DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio.

The HHS mandate requires employers to fully pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance plans, which includes potential life-ending drugs. The Greens do not object to birth control, but they do have a religious objection to providing coverage for drugs and devices that can cause the death of newly conceived human embryos, specifically two types of IUDs and the drugs known as “Plan B” and “Ella.”

Without a positive result from the Supreme Court, the Greens will be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal fines if they maintain their convictions.

Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and work according to their religious beliefs. The HHS mandate demands that ordinary Americans bend to the administration’s religious preferences and violate their principles or stand up for their religious rights and be fined up to $100 per day, per employee. For the Greens that would be more than $36,500 annually per employee. The other option would simply be to drop health care coverage for all employees and direct them to the Obamacare exchanges. This option would only cost an employer $2,000 per employee, per year — potentially over $26 million annually for the Greens.

The fines alone are revealing of Obamacare’s priorities. A business can pay a $2,000 fine per person, per year, to provide no health insurance at all, or a business can pay a $36,500 per person, per year fine, to provide health insurance that does not align with the president’s religious preferences. Either way, fines will force companies to cut jobs or drop health coverage altogether, which is not good for families or women.

At the core, the HHS mandate is the next instance of how Obamacare will impact your job, family and health care. This issue is not just about companies like Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood or ministries like Little Sisters of the Poor. This intrusive federal mandate will set a precedent of government intervention in determining who the faithful are, what faith is and where, when and how that faith may be lived out.

Rep. James Lankford photo courtesy U.S. Congressman James Lankford official website

Photo courtesy of Rep. James Lankford official website

Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., represents the fifth district where the Green family lives. Photo courtesy Rep. James Lankford official website

The Greens and other family businesses who are challenging the intrusive HHS mandate are not alone. A new Family Research Council/Alliance Defending Freedom poll (ADF represents Conestoga Wood) found that 59% of likely voters opposed the HHS mandate overall, including 54% of women ages 18-45 and 61% of Independents. The poll found that more likely voters disapprove of the HHS mandate than disapprove of Obamacare overall.

Americans realize, as James Madison once said, that “conscience is the most sacred of all property,” and similarly that other people’s consciences should be protected and defended.

In America we respect freedom of conscience, hard work and dedicated families. Freedom is the backbone to our continued flourishing. Let us hope that the Supreme Court recognizes that the owners of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and others should not be forced to violate their conscience as a condition for placing the sign, “Open for Business,” on their front doors.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins speaks outside the Family Research Council Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2013. RNS photo by Chris Lisee

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins speaks outside the Family Research Council Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2013. RNS photo by Chris Lisee

(Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., represents the fifth district where the Green family lives. Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which has submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Hobby Lobby.)


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Tony Perkins

About the author

James Lankford


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  • The thing that most ‘religious’ folks over look in this debate is that if the mandate is lifted for any “for profit businesses” it effectively allows the employer to coerce the compliance of his employees into following his religious beliefs as a condition of their employment. In other words he is requiring them to give up a commercial benefit to which they are legally entitled, on the basis of his personal religious beliefs, in order to gain employment with his company. I do not believe this should ever be allowed.

  • It’s a shame that “our” government has become something that our founding fathers would never have imagined. Since when has life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness been replaced by, “We will force you to do this” even if it goes against your personal convictions. America has become a shell of it’s former self.

  • Conversely, to use your own line of reasoning, the thing that most “non-religious” folks over look is that if the mandate is stayed for any “for profit businesses” if effectively allows the government to coerce the compliance of business owners into following the government’s beliefs as a condition of staying in business. In other words the government is requiring them to give up a liberty to which they are legally entitled, on the basis of the government’s beliefs, in order to remain in business. This should never be allowed. The commercial benefit of access to healthcare isn’t at question here, Hobby Lobby offers healthcare for it’s employees. The “benefit” at question is abortion.

  • Your attempt at a counterpoint is nonsense. Government has always had the right to regulate commerce. The right to coerce businesses into meeting interests of the government is a well established practice. Government does so all the time. Minimum wage, workplace safety, anti-discrimination laws, mandatory policy provisions on insurance.

    There has never been such a thing as corporate religious belief. It is merely a fiction used here to dodge a law which has very politically partisan opposition without having to provide a rational argument.

    As typical of people who wish to undermine democratic ideals, Mr. Perkins quote mines James Madison to pretend they would have supported the views expressed. Madison would have considered his brand of religious politics abhorrent.
    “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

    Hobby Lobby is requesting the right to violate employee confidentiality and dictate to the insurers what medical services or supplies are appropriate. It was never a legitimate decision on their part to make on behalf of employees.

  • Unless you were black. Then, “I will force you to do this” was a major part of living in America at the time of our founders.

    In general when people talk about our founding fathers and their vision of government, they are usually making crap up or using ridiculous ahistorical arguments.

    Civil liberties are all about coercion of people to do what is right and necessary. People don’t grant them out of the kindness of their heart. It is hard fought and given usually after heavy opposition.

  • There is no sane way “corporate religious beliefs” can exist without being a discriminatory horrific mess.

    Using Hobby Lobby Logic a company could do the following:
    -Require all business to stop 3 times a day for daily prayers
    -Require all female staff to wear hijabs
    -Require employees to pick up their paychecks after mandatory Mass
    -Pay employees in script which can’t be used to purchase pork, alcohol or shellfish
    -Hire or fire based on the employee’s religious belief
    -Refuse to fund health insurance which funds blood transfusions
    -Refuse to fund any health insurance since prayer is the only medicine God allows
    -Health insurance only covering witch doctors, shamans and acupuncturists

    All sorts of ridiculous things which fly in the face of various labor laws.

  • If their religion was anything other than Christian, then Hobby Lobby’s attempt to use “religion” as a defense for bigotry would be obvious to everyone. But insteand, because of Christian Privilege, they not only maintain their argument, but even have people posting here in defense of their bigotry. The owners of Hobby Lobby can, of course, practice whatever religion they want to. They are simply be barred from forcing their religion on all their employees, just as other bigots are barred from forcing their bigotry on all their employees (such as, say, by requiring African American employees to wear dunce caps, or doing the same to Atheist employees, or Mormon employees). Only in cases of Privilege will people say they are being persecuted when they are prevented from forcing their religion on others.

  • Business are not churches or individuals.Why should white conservatives have the privilege to pick and choose which laws they will condescend to honor?

    Not to mention that Tony Perkins is the leader of a notorious hate propaganda organization, which seems to operate much like the Citizens’ Councils of my youth.

  • When will christians learn that American’s tolerance for them forcing their religious doctrine upon us is quickly coming to a close? Green’s; you don’t want to compensate your employees with something that you feel violates your beliefs, then please don’t. This is America, and you don’t have to. Go ahead and drop employee health care coverage, pay them that money instead, and they can go the the healthcare exchange and get what they want, or don’t pay them anything towards their health care at all. Let the “free market” make whatever correction it will, which may be that soon you will have very few people who will work for you. Then you will no longer have to violate your beliefs, and you will have a opportunity to show everyone what you really worship.

    Religion is poison!!

  • The owners of Hobby Lobby are Protestants who do not object to contraception. Therefore they including contraception in their plan and force orthodox Catholic employees to pay for something they find immoral. Hobby Lobby’s complaint is that a handful of drugs the FDA has found to be contraceptives, Hobby Lobby believes to actually be abortion causing drugs.

    So what they are really saying is that they agree with the ACA that contraception should be included and abortion not. They just think that even though their field of expertize is marketing kits to turn popsicle sticks into amazing objects d’art, they know more about how chemical compounds work than the FDA and they should be able to impose this judgment on their employees. Were they to win the case, some other employer could say they believe that prostate cancer is caused by masturbation and therefore deny FDA approved treatments.