Yesterday, the Supreme Court set a date for hearing oral arguments in Hobby Lobby’s case against Obamacare’s contraception mandate. Lawyers for Hobby Lobby and for the Obama administration will make their cases on Tuesday, March 25 at 10 a.m.
At issue is whether the government has a right to force the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby to provide coverage for drugs that sometimes cause abortions. The Obama administration will argue that the government does have a right to force these Christians to violate their consciences in order to comply with Obamacare. Obviously, the owners of Hobby Lobby will argue otherwise.
Romesh Ponnuru has written an article that gives the legal backdrop to this and the many other court challenges that have been filed against the contraception mandate. Ponnuru shows that the issue is not merely what the first amendment says, but also the proper application of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” That law requires the government to find the “least restrictive means possible” in advancing a “compelling government interest” that limits religious freedom. Is the contraception mandate the “least restrictive means” for advancing national healthcare? Not by a longshot. But that is what’s at issue in this case.
Ponnuru also deals with other questions that are contested in this debate: Are corporations to be treated as people protected under the first amendment? If Hobby Lobby wins, won’t that open up a slippery slope so that religious objectors might also deny coverage for blood transfusions and other services? Ponnuru shows that these arguments are red herrings and do not give any proper legal basis for the Obama administration’s attack on religious liberty in the contraceptive mandate.
Ponnuru’s piece is heady stuff, but I recommend it if you want to have a quick framing of the legal issues in dispute. Without question, this case represents one of the most pressing challenges to religious liberty in our time. The stakes are really high.