Ross Douthat said something last week that sums up my feelings exactly: “Not ashamed to say that I fear only three things: nuclear war, carnies, and the Hobby Lobby decision.” It is a clever line that might have been funny if it weren’t true. There is so much riding on what the Supreme Court decides tomorrow morning. What is so alarming about our national debate, however, is that so few of our countryman seem to be aware of what is actually at stake. The court could do the right thing and protect our first freedom, or the court could end religious liberty as we know it. Is anyone paying attention?
Case in point: The National Journal has an article analyzing the possible outcomes of the decision. Will the court rule in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood? If so, will it do so narrowly or broadly? Finally, the author considers the possibility of status quo. He writes:
Of course, the justices could also rule that the mandate is completely legal, in which case nothing changes and the world just keeps on spinning like it is now.
And therein is the problem. It’s not merely the forces arrayed against Hobby Lobby that see little threat to religious liberty in this case. Far too many people simply cannot understand what it means to be coerced by the government to violate conscience. Our fellow citizens seem to think that if their consciences aren’t being violated, then who cares if someone else’s are? There’s no real harm in that. The world will just keep on spinning like it is now.
What they fail to see is that Obamacare’s contraception mandate is one of the most egregious violations of religious liberty in the history of our republic. The United States Government is trying to force these Christian business owners to pay for insurance plans that cover abortion-inducing birth control devices. It doesn’t matter that the law violates their religious liberty to conduct business in a way that is consistent with their conscience. Obamacare mandates that these Christians comply or face coercive fines and penalties.
When the controversy over the abortion mandate erupted a couple years ago, the American public by and large got the false impression that this was about conservatives who wanted to ban contraception. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one wants to outlaw contraception. This controversy is about who must pay for it and the fact that the government is forcing pro-life business owners to pay for drugs that can cause chemical abortions. If the federal government can force citizens to purchase items that they believe to be immoral, where will this end?
If this story is a bore to you right now, try to imagine for a moment what it would be like to be in Hobby Lobby’s position. You don’t have to agree with Hobby Lobby’s opposition to abortion to do this. Would you have a problem if the federal government required you to purchase goods or services that you believe to be immoral and against your most deeply held beliefs? That is precisely what is happening to Hobby Lobby right now. If this stands, what will keep this from happening to you?
The first line of the Bill of Rights says this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Obamacare’s contraception mandate prohibits the free exercise of the owners of Hobby Lobby. We will find out tomorrow whether the Supreme Court recognizes that.