Yesterday, in the United States Senate, Washington Sen. Patty Murray voted with fifty-five other Senators to roll back religious freedom.
Specifically, she voted for legislation that would force businesses like Hobby Lobby to pay for contraceptives that violate their sincerely held beliefs.
While Hobby Lobby pays for sixteen different forms of birth control in their coverage, Sen. Murray and others are frustrated that businesses have the freedom to make choices they disagree with.
In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court said that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because there are ways for the government to make the objectionable forms of birth control available without forcing people to violate their conscience.
If it’s really that important, the government could simply pay for it.
However, instead of proposing legislation to make the objectionable forms of birth control available to Hobby Lobby employees that might want them, Sen. Murray drafted legislation that would make it easier for her to force people to violate their beliefs.
Her website claims that the legislation would “restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and protect coverage of other health services from employers who want to impose their beliefs on their employees by denying benefits.” (emphasis added).
Oddly, it appears that saying “no” to someone who asks you for something is imposing your beliefs on them.
However, forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do is not.
Her legislation would is intended to be a “legislative fix” to the Hobby Lobby decision and repeal significant protections in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Curiously, RFRA was itself a “legislative fix” to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in City of Boerne v. Flores.
In the time we’ve moved from “Hammer pants” to skinny jeans, Congress has moved from being alarmed when the Supreme Court takes away the people’s freedom to being alarmed when the Court limits the government’s ability to control the people.
Religious freedom wasn’t always seen as a problem on the left.
In 1993, RFRA passed the House of Representatives 425-0 and passed the Senate 97-3. Vast right-wing, co-conspirator Bill Clinton signed it into law and later called it one of his greatest accomplishments as President.
Sen. Murray voted for it as well.
Her shift on this issue is symbolic of the left’s shift on individual liberty generally. Nothing about RFRA changed in the last twenty years.
What changed is the urgency with which the left feels the need to control people’s lives.
In 1993, the idea that employers can be forced to pay for their employees abortions would have been greeted with a universal raise of the eyebrow.
Now that Sen. Murray believes that forcing people to violate their conscience is not only permissible but desirable, she is being forced to undo the protections for individual liberty she once championed.
When it comes to religious freedom, at least she can say she was for it before she was against it.
If you want to share your thoughts with Senator Murray, you can contact her at (202) 224-2621 or click here to send her a message.
When the Supreme Court released their decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius on Monday it started the race to understand what it means for the other challenges to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.
The Hobby Lobby case established that the mandate violates the religious freedom of private, family owned companies, but a number of religiously affiliated non-profit organizations have challenged the mandate as well.
Obamacare includes an exemption from the mandate for churches, but that does not extend to thousands of religiously affiliated organizations like hospitals, colleges, universities, religious schools, and charities.
For example, Tyndale House Publishing, which is owned by the nonprofit Tyndale House Foundation and is the largest Bible publisher in the world, has been deemed not religious enough to be exempt.
Another non-profit organization that does not want to be forced to purchase contraception in their insurance plans is Little Sisters of the Poor, an international organization of Catholic nuns that cares for elderly poor people.
They have filed a lawsuit claiming that the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage violates their religious freedom.
In an effort to accommodate religious organizations without exempting them, the Obama Administration has told Little Sisters to sign a letter that the organization’s employees (nuns) could then use to obtain birth control coverage.
However, Little Sisters has argued that signing a letter that someone else would use to obtain birth control makes them complicit in something they believe is wrong.
The Department of Health and Human Services responded by claiming that Little Sisters should not object to signing the letter because it does not make them a party to the transaction but only releases them from the obligation of providing birth control themselves.
But the premise is wrong.
If the free exercise of religion means anything, it means the government doesn’t get to tell the people what is important to them as a matter of conscience, they get to honor it.
When the government tells you what beliefs are approved, that looks much more like an establishment of religion rather than the free exercise of it.
The good news is that the Hobby Lobby decision rejected the idea that government can decide for individuals when an action is morally objectionable.
Justice Alito, in the majority opinion, wrote, “[The objection to the mandate] implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another. Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”
He continued, “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”
This seems like good news for Little Sisters of the Poor.
The government’s argument that religious organizations should be content with the accommodation being offered appears to have been rejected on the grounds that the government doesn’t get to dictate to its subjects err… the people…what is acceptable to them on moral grounds.
If, as we hope they will, the Supreme Court agrees that the contraception mandate violates the religious freedom of non-profit organizations as well, then we can go back to figuring out who thought it was critical to guarantee birth control coverage for an order of nuns in the first place.
The ink was hardly dry on the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius before the left trotted out their well-worn talking points about the “war on women”.
Don’t want to pay for her abortion? War on Women.
Don’t want to pay for her contraception? War on Women.
The whole feminist movement used to be about recognizing that women weren’t dependent. But now it appears to have taken a bizarre u-turn to a place where a fundamental tenant of women’s rights is that women will be hopelessly lost if someone else doesn’t furnish accessories for her sex life.
If I were a woman, I think I’d be a little offended.
But since I am a apparently a chauvinist, I will just continue believing that women are capable of getting their own birth control if it’s that important to them.
As one tweeter pointed out in response to the social media firestorm, “if you can afford a device to tweet, you can also afford $8 a month for your own contraception”.
Regardless, the Supreme Court has spoken and family owned businesses can decline to pay for some things that violate their beliefs.
But in no way does this settle the much larger debate over religious freedom. It’s important for us to understand how this decision affects the numerous other cases working their way through the courts.
One of the nation’s most significant religious freedom cases involves Arlene’s Flowers, a Richland, WA florist who declined to provide the floral services for the same-sex “wedding”.
Since Hobby Lobby is a business that was told they couldn’t be forced to violate their conscience, it would be nice if we could simply conclude that Arlene’s Flowers also can’t be forced to violate their religious beliefs.
But as is often the case in the world of law, it’s not quite that simple.
In the Hobby Lobby case, the Green family successfully argued that the contraception mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), because it burdens religious liberty without having a compelling reason to do so.
The problem for businesses like Arlene’s Flowers is that the Supreme Court, in Boerne v. Flores, ruled that RFRA cannot be applied to the states. Since Arlene’s Flowers is being sued by Washington State, the statute that protected Hobby Lobby from a federal law is not available to protect a business from state action.Washington State could adopt their own version of RFRA and offer greater protections for religious freedom-as eighteen other states have done.
However, that idea was met with strong opposition in 2013 specifically because many legislators do not want businesses to have the freedom to choose how they operate.
In addition, the lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers has been brought under the Washington non-discrimination statute, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. There is no federal equivalent.
Of course Arlene’s Flowers does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. She had knowingly and cheerfully served the customers involved in this lawsuit for nearly a decade and employed people with same-sex attraction.
But at this point, Attorney General Bob Ferguson does not recognize the difference between declining to provide a certain service and declining serve gay people generally.
Because of this, Arlene’s Flower’s cannot simply rely on the encouraging ruling from the Hobby Lobby case.
Unfortunately, many on the left believe the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, which was invented 10 years ago, trumps the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion that has existed since the founding of our country.
Even more strangely, they believe it is a greater affront to personal freedom to ask Sally to find another florist than it is to force Jane to do something that violates her beliefs.
In any other context, this argument doesn’t pass the straight face test.
No one would accuse a tattoo artist who refuses to place a swastika on the arm of a client of imposing his narrow views on someone else.
So what can we do to protect businesses like Arlene’s Flowers in Washington?
The first thing you can do is call Bob Ferguson at 360-753-6200 and ask him to recognize the rights of business owners to exercise religious freedom and drop the lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers.
If religious freedom matters to you, it needs to be an issue that determines how you vote in every election.
Remember, friends don’t let friends vote for people who sue grandmothers because of their beliefs.
In the end, politicians respond to their constituents or get replaced by the same.
It is our job to make sure the voices supporting religious freedom are stronger than those opposing it.
Yesterday was a good day for religious freedom, but it is up to us to make sure that there are more good days in the future.
LYNNWOOD, Wash. – The Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW) praised today’s decision by the Supreme Court upholding conscience rights and religious freedom of family owned businesses who object to paying for sterilization, contraception and drugs that cause abortions.
FPIW Executive Director Joseph Backholm said, “This is one of the most significant decisions of our generation. Everyone who cares about freedom should be encouraged by the fact that individuals don’t surrender their religious freedom simply because they become job creators.”
“The government’s mandate gave family owned businesses two on-choices: either violate your deeply held beliefs and pay for something you believe is wrong or pay a fine of $100, per employee, per day. In the case of Hobby Lobby, that is $1.3 million per day. It is sad that the government would want to do this to its citizens, but it is encouraging that the Supreme Court affirmed that they cannot. It is simply unkind to conclude that because I have the right to buy something I also have the right to force you to provide it for me.”
“In a free and diverse society, we respect the freedom to live out our convictions, not just in private, but in the way we conduct our lives in public as well,” Backholm concluded.