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The Most Important Right in the Hobby Lobby Case

by Jojo Ruba

The US Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case, regarding an American company’s religious freedom, is worth celebrating. But as we celebrate, pro-lifers should be careful about what religious freedom they are celebrating.

If you don’t know, Hobby Lobby, a company which sells things like glue and glitter for hobbyists, sued the US government so that they wouldn’t have to provide certain birth control methods for their employees. When the US government passed public healthcare, they demanded that private companies like Hobby Lobby, with a large number of employees, would be required to provide all forms of contraception as part of its healthcare services.

Hobby Lobby is willing to provide contraception, but not in every form. It doesn’t provide IUDs or certain chemical birth control methods that also act after fertilization has taken place. In other words, these contraceptive methods don’t just prevent conception, they also act as abortions if a human zygote has already formed. That’s why the company—a company owned by devoted Christians who still close their stores on Sundays—brought the case to court: they didn’t want to be forced to pay for their employees’ abortions.

This week, the US Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other companies that are not publicly owned or traded (the Court called them “closely held” companies[1]) had “religious rights” and so didn’t have to pay for these kinds of birth control. The Court ruled that religious rights don’t permit companies to refuse blood transfusions or immunizations, but for the narrow case of Hobby Lobby and other companies not wanting to fund certain forms of birth control, forms which they consider akin to the killing of human life, religious rights can be evoked.

Abortion advocates have raged against the decision, of course, demanding that women’s right to choose should be respected. Pro-lifers counter that no one is forcing women to work for a private company owned by pro-life Christians. They point out that birth control is still freely available to anyone who wants it. In fact, most of the Supreme Court justices argued that the government, rather than the companies, should pay for birth control for any women affected by the decision.

But pro-lifers can make a stronger point that this Court decision seems to ignore: before celebrating the decision, it’s important we point out which religious freedoms we should actually protect.

In the majority decision, Justice Alito, wrote

As we have noted, the Hahns and Greens have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. They therefore object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that, as HHS acknowledges, see Brief for HHS in No. 13–354, at 9, n. 4, may result in the destruction of an embryo. By requiring the Hahns and Greens and their companies to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs. [2]

As much as I am glad that the Court respects religious freedoms, it is not a “sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” As I’ve argued before,[3]it is a scientific fact that any organism that reproduces sexually, including human beings, begins life at fertilization. No court should have to decide that I have the right to believe that scientific fact, regardless of my religious views. Imagine the Court having to rule that I have the religious right to believe that gravity exists or that yellow and blue make green!

The religious or moral argument, of course, is that human life has inherent value—that’s what we believe as Christians, and that’s the view that should be protected by the law.

Christians have been on the forefront of protecting human life from the Christianity’s inception. Whether it was the early Christians rescuing abandoned babies, or the Christians preaching against gladiatorial battles, human sacrifice, or slavery, everywhere Christians went human life became protected. In other words, every society that allowed Christians to value human life benefited from their “religious views.”

That’s why when pro-lifers talk about this Hobby Lobby case we shouldn’t talk about the religious right to believe life begins at fertilization; we should simply acknowledge that as a scientific fact. Instead, we should remind others that when the law protects our religious right to stand up for human life, all of society benefits.


[3] http://www.faithbeyondbelief.ca/2014/05/29/and-no-religion-too-why-both-sides-of-the-abortion-debate-cannot-escape-religion/

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