At Work & Public Square

Hobby Lobby: A Victory for Religious Freedom and the Christian View of Work

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The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) commends the Supreme Court’s decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. for honoring religious freedom and the Christian view of work. It indicates the Court’s intention to preserve religious rights, at least for now.

As I have written in previous blogs, we in the United States face a threat to our religious freedom.

The effort to replace religious freedom with religious tolerance puts all of our liberties in jeopardy. You cannot redefine religious freedom without calling the entire idea of self-government into question.

Yesterday’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case is important because the government regulation it struck down punished the Christian entrepreneur.

Now Christians running businesses no longer have to choose between God and business. The government’s assertion that seeking profit is a completely secular pursuit, and that once we go into business, we lose our religious freedoms in the context of those activities, is fundamentally wrong. We are pleased and relieved that the nation’s highest court ruled in a way that upholds the Christian view of work.

Yet we need to understand that while this week’s Hobby Lobby ruling by the Supreme Court is helpful, it does not remove the current threat to our religious freedom.

The Importance of Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court circumvented the discussion of the First Amendment altogether, instead falling back on a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The RFRA says that Americans are not required to follow federal laws that “substantially burden religious exercise,” unless the government has a “compelling…interest” at stake that outweighs that individual burden.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, argued in the 95-page decision,

Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged [Department of Health and Human Services] regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do.

There will be many who will point to this ruling and suggest that the case is confirmation that religious practice is well respected and protected in America. Yet that ignores the fact that this was a 5-4 decision. Replace any of the five judges in the majority and the results could have been very different.

John Adams maintained our government was not armed,

with power sufficient to contend with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…Our Constitution,” he said, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

There are many today who disagree with that statement. And they will continue to try to transform the religious freedom of our founders into a form of religious tolerance that attempts to bar faith from the public square.

Understanding Liberty

Several years ago Christianity Today published an article entitled “Honoring Faith in the Public Square.” They pointed out one of the quotes appearing in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.:

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.

The author of the article goes on to acknowledge that although Jefferson was speaking of slavery, there was a larger, implicit point:

Jefferson was saying that the very possibility of liberty itself, the liberty of every man and woman, depends upon our prior willingness to understand liberty as a gift of God rather than a dispensation of man.

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, let us not forget these were men who gave up everything to make religious freedom the first right in the first line of the First Amendment of our Constitution. They understood that it was the wellspring from which all of our other liberties flow. They fought for it, and we should too.

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