The ‘exceptional importance’ of the Hobby Lobby case

It’s no surprise that the “Hobby Lobby” case is in the news. The valid headlines this week are that this religious-liberty case is on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Hobby Lobby craft-store chain is owned by the evangelical Christian Green family of Oklahoma, and the family is seeking an exemption from the Health and Human Services mandate requiring employer payments for contraceptives — including those that induce abortions. Hobby Lobby is a national chain, and the Green family’s stance is well known.

However, the Los Angeles Times team let a few ghosts into its examination of the high-court development, which begins in an apocalyptic tone:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration set the stage Thursday for another Supreme Court showdown on the president’s healthcare law, this time to decide whether for-profit companies can be forced to provide full contraceptive coverage for their employees despite religious objections from their owners.

The administration’s lawyers asked the justices to take up the issue this fall to decide whether these corporations can claim a religious exemption to this part of the healthcare law.

U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr. called the issue one of “exceptional importance” that needs to be resolved soon.

While the Greens may appreciate the move to get a quick decision from the Supreme Court, we have to wonder just why this is suddenly an issue of “exceptional importance” to the administration.

We also wonder what a reader coming to this story for the first time might make of the “religious objections” alluded to in the piece. That’s because allusion is all that happens here: we’re not told, in the story, anything about what the Green family believes, or why. There’s a mention of the abortifacient drug issue, but it’s almost too, well, casual.

Large employers are required to provide health coverage, and the law says this insurance must pay for standard contraceptives, including the “morning after” pill.

But some employers object on religious grounds. They went to court, arguing that they cannot be compelled by the government to subsidize birth control or abortions.

As it has doubtless been mentioned here numerous times, a wide range of differences exist among Christians of differing stripes (i.e., faith communities) over what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of birth control.

At one well-known end of the spectrum is the Catholic Church, which rejects any form of artificial contraception as well as abortion. At the other (far, far more liberal) end, there are Protestant churches which support abortion rights and all kinds of contraception.

We suspect the evangelical Greens are somewhere in the middle, accepting of some birth control methods but opposing abortion, which means they would oppose paying for medications that would induce an abortion when taken by a pregnant woman. I say that we “suspect” this because the Los Angeles Times gives us no indication of who believes what, let alone why.

While I suppose this could descend into the mantra of boilerplate: “The so-and-so company, is owned by the thus-and-such family, whose [denominational name here] beliefs oppose supporting or paying for abortions or medicines which induce abortions” could become a mantra of sorts. And, perhaps, everyone else reading the Los Angeles Times knows what the Greens believe.

Details and context matter, perhaps never as much as when sensitive issues such as birth control and the Affordable Care Act are set to collide in the nation’s highest court.

And on the religion beat, God is in the details. Literally.

Oh, and one more thing. What about this chunk of the story?

The administration’s lawyers argued … that it would be “unprecedented” for a court to extend religious exemptions to corporations. …

These cases involving corporate employers are separate from suits involving schools and hospitals that have religious affiliations. The administration has given those employers a limited exemption from the law.

Well now. It would help to know that an urgent wave of cases are rolling through the lower courts about the details in that “limited exemption,” cases involving Catholic ministries and a wide range of religious colleges and universities. This is another, and even tougher, religious-liberty clash for the administration.

It would have been good to have mentioned that, too. Will the Hobby Lobby case allow consideration of the arguments made by religious non-profit groups, ministries and schools?

About Mark Kellner

Mark Kellner has been interested in religion since his pre-teen years, and has written about religious news actively since 1983. His work regularly appears in Adventist World and Adventist Review magazines, where he is news editor, and in The Washington Times, where he has contributed since 1991, most recently writing about trends in religion. He and his wife reside in the Maryland suburbs, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

  • helen

    When the HHS mandate first hit the papers, and our church, among many others which are against the killing of the unborn, protested that their (self-insurance) plans would be forced to provide [abortion producing drugs], a lay man asked me, “Is the church interested in religious freedom to refuse this for the lay business owner, or only for the church’s organizations?
    It will be interesting to see if some of those churches, vitally interested for themselves, will support Hobby Lobby if its case is heard by the Supreme Court.

    Or will it be, “They came for the (lay) business owner, but I wasn’t a business owner, so…” ?


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