Conestoga Wood Specialties vs Sebelius
Religious Freedom on Trial Before the U.S. Supreme Court
On Tuesday March 25, 2014 an important religious liberty case will be argued before the United States Supreme Court.
In administering the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) the Department of Health and Human Services instituted regulations that require businesses to provide health insurance for their employees that includes free access to contraceptive abortion-inducing drugs, which could result in the termination of a pregnancy.
At issue here is where the line should be drawn for religious freedom. The first amendment of our Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof“. While individual religious liberty is guaranteed to all citizens by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, how does that freedom affect closely-held businesses and the religious convictions of their owners?
This case represents the interests of two privately held businesses.
- Conestoga Wood Specialties began in 1964 here in Lancaster County and is a major manufacturer of custom wood cabinet doors and accessories for kitchen cabinets. They have approximately 1000 employees in five locations across the country.
- Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., headquartered in Oklahoma City, OK, started in 1970 and has 601 arts and crafts stores across the country.
Currently Conestoga Wood Specialties faces a potential fine of $100 per employee per day for non-compliance. That amounts to $100,000 per day in fines.
The Arguments of the Case
The government argues that a corporation cannot have religious liberty, and therefore the corporation is required to obey the mandate.
The business owners argue that, as Christians, their religious convictions cannot support abortion, which they see as the murder of innocent lives. Therefore, paying for an insurance plan that provide abortion-inducing drugs for their employees violates their religious convictions. (The rights of their individual employees to use these drugs on their own is not an issue in the case.)
The business owners see this as an encroachment on their religious liberty. Being closely-held businesses, they say there is no way to separate their businesses from the convictions of the owners. (Keep in mind that sub-chapter S corporations do not pay income taxes. All profits or losses from sub-chapter S corporations flow through to the business owners themselves.)
While corporations may seem impersonal on paper, corporations cannot exist without the people behind them making business decisions each day based upon their personal convictions regarding their employees, their customers, and the ethical handling of their business affairs. Some business decisions are made based on those convictions, such as assistance for individual employees who have personal issues or supporting local community issues, and are not based solely on bottom-line profit.
As Christians they want to run their business according to their faith. This regulation causes them to violate their faith. They feel the government should not be able to force individuals to violate their beliefs.
Plus, they argue that over 180 exemptions have been given by HHS to other businesses and individuals regarding these regulations. There is no consistency regarding HHS policy decisions.
The Ramifications of This Case
The Supreme Court must address whether a corporation can raise such an objection to laws. There are no precedents here that say corporations are or are not entitled to exercise freedom of religion.
This issue should matter for everyone who supports freedom in this country, whether or not they agree with the personal beliefs of these business owners. If the Supreme Court supports the enforcement of this law, there could be other repercussions down the road. What other personal freedoms and individual rights could be in jeopardy if the government can make arbitrary decisions like this? The end result could be a dramatic curtailment of our individual rights as citizens.
The case will be argued before the Supreme Court next Tuesday morning at 10:00 am, with each side having one-half hour to present their case. Then on Friday the judges will meet to decide how they will vote on the case. Their decision will be made public probably in June.
We urge you to pray for the justices and their support staffs. There will be a rally held in front of the Supreme Court starting at 9:30 am Tuesday.
For more information on this case we invite you to visit the PA Family Institute website.