Earlier today, Rev. Sirico spoke with WSJ Live’s Mary Kissel about the contraceptive mandate ruling, religion’s place in the public square, and the historical context of the Supreme Court’s decision. Watch below:
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court just announced its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, holding that, “as applied to closely held corporations, the government’s HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).” The full opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, can be read here.
Although there is still much to digest, and although the majority opinion still leaves quite a bit of room for related battles to continue, it’s worth noting that that whatever perceived “narrowness” we see in the decision — confining things specifically to closely held corporations — remains a significant victory, particularly given our culture’s prevailing attitudes about business.
According to HHS, by simply incorporating one’s business in the pursuit of profit — “without in any way changing the size or nature of their businesses” — a company “would forfeit all RFRA (and free-exercise) rights” (quotes from Alito’s paraphrase). The arguments supporting such a view vary, including the principal argument advanced by HHS that corporations cannot “exercise religion.”
Alito dissects this from a variety of angles, and does so rather compellingly. But one of the more noteworthy sections is his refutation of the notion that for-profit corporations aren’t protected by RFRA because they “simply seek to make a profit.” (more…)
The Supreme Court recently decided (in Greece v. Galloway) that the New York town of Greece had the right to open its town board meetings with prayer, and that this did not violate the rights of anyone, nor did it violate the Constitutional mandate that our government cannot establish a religion. The town, the Court found, did not discriminate against any faith, and there was no coercion to pray.
We know that the Founding Fathers were not all Christians. However, they all wished to see a nation where religious faith was respected and accommodated. The president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, Alan Sears, writes:
Religious coercion was a great concern to the Founders, and rightly so. But their view of coercion was true coercion, in which people were ordered to act (or refrain from acting) in violation of their conscience. For the Founders, coercion looked more like the current health care dispute in which the government is compelling family businesses to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs regardless of those families’ deeply held religious beliefs. That’s coercion. As to how the Founders viewed legislative prayer, there can be no question; they considered it a desired accommodation of religion, and not coercion.
Katherine Stewart is most unhappy about the recent Supreme Court decision, Greece v. Galloway. The Court upheld the right of the town of Greece, New York, to being town hall meetings with prayer, so long as no one was coerced into participating. And that makes Ms. Stewart unhappy.
In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Ms. Stewart decries the Court’s decision as something akin to a vast, right-wing conspiracy.
The first order of business is to remove objections by swiping aside the idea that soft forms of establishment exist at all. Here, the Greece decision delivers, substantially.
A second element of the plan for undermining concerns based on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is to reinterpret public acts as personal expressions of speech by private individuals. Thus, when the minister appointed by the municipal government of Greece bids “all rise,” the Supreme Court majority tells us, this is not an establishment of religion because the words are not uttered by public officials. And when the town leaders respond with a sign of the cross, that isn’t establishment either, because, just then, public officials are acting as private individuals.
Another prong in the assault on the Establishment Clause is to use neutrality among religious denominations as a wedge for inserting the (presumed) majority religion into state business.
The short answer: The constitutionality of saying religiously specific prayers (e.g., praying in Jesus name) at government meetings and functions.
The (slightly) longer answer: In the town of Greece, located in upstate New York, the Town Board sessions were opened by a prayer from local clergy, mostly leaders of Christian congregations although in a few instances members of other faith traditions offered the invocation (a Jewish man, a Baha’i leader, and a Wiccan). The Second Circuit Court ruled the prayers were unconstitutional since they aligned the town government officially with a particular faith — Christianity. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
What was the Supreme Court’s ruling?
In a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines with Justice Kennedy joining the majority, the court ruled that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court concludes:
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are two companies with consciences. It is that sense of morality that has put both those companies before the Supreme Court right now. These companies, in accordance to their understanding of right and wrong, do not want to be forced (by government mandate) to pay for employees’ birth control and abortions.
Should the government have a say in a company’s conscience?
Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream makers, have a conscience. Their mission has three parts: product, economic and social. Their social mission reads:
Our Social Mission compels us to use our Company in innovative ways to make the world a better place. To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.
The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby contraception case. But which arguments will have the most influence on the justices? Michael McConnel, a respected Religion Clauses scholar from Standford, explains which four arguments are most likely to be important:
Cutting through the politicized hype about the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga case (“Corporations have no rights!” “War on Women!”) the Justices during oral argument focused on four serious legal questions, which deserve a serious answer:
(1) Could Hobby Lobby avoid a substantial burden on its religious exercise by dropping health insurance and paying fines of $2,000 per employee?
(2) Does the government have a compelling interest in protecting the statutory rights of Hobby Lobby’s employees?
(3) Would a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby give rise to a slippery slope of exemptions from vaccines, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the like?
(4) Has the government satisfied the least restrictive means test?
I think the answer to all four questions is “no.” I offer brief thoughts on each below.
The CVS chain made an announcement a few weeks ago: they would no longer sell tobacco products at their stores. CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said:
As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners. By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do.
Merlo’s own father died of lung cancer, and Merlo felt that this was not only a business decision, but an ethical one. (more…)
I won’t bother reviewing all the details of the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court regarding the HHS mandate (you can do more reading here, here and here.) I’d like to talk about why this issue is of particular interest for women, and why the voices of all women need to be heard.
The organization Women Speak For Themselves has been vocal in the fight against the HHS mandate. They want to make it known that the call for universal access to birth control and abortion via employee health insurance is not supported by all women, and that women from every walk of life deserve to be heard.
We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Many, at some point in our careers, have worked for a Catholic institution. We are proud to have been part of the religious mission of that school, or hospital, or social service organization. We are proud to have been associated not only with the work Catholic institutions perform in the community – particularly for the most vulnerable — but also with the shared sense of purpose found among colleagues who chose their job because, in a religious institution, a job is always also a vocation. (more…)
On Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. ET, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, both of which will have a profound impact on the future of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America.
Thus, Hobby Lobby supporters across the country have been invited to offer their prayers in support of the company, and I encourage you to participate. You can help spread the word by changing the avatar on your social media accounts and posting with the hashtag #PrayForHobbyLobby. Although the Court will be hearing arguments tomorrow, I would encourage us to begin our intercession today.
The government is telling the Hobby Lobby owners, the Green family, that their free exercise rights aren’t relevant because they run a corporation. They’re telling these Anabaptist woodworkers and the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor and ministries of all sorts all over the country that what’s at stake is just the signing of some papers, the payment of some money.
Our government has treated free exercise of religion as though it were a tattered house standing in the way of a government construction of a railroad; there to be bought off or plowed out of the way, in the name of progress … (more…)