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ObamaCare’s Crisis of Conscience

Commentary
Highlights
One of the great conceits of ObamaCare is the assumption... that those who oppose the law would eventually cast their convictions aside and just go along with it.

Note: This article originally appeared at First Things on December 5, 2012.

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based chain of arts-and-crafts stores, must provide employee health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, a federal judge has ruled, despite the owners’ claim that such drugs violate their religious beliefs.

The ruling states that Hobby Lobby and its sister company, Mardel Inc., which sells Bibles and Christian study books, have no constitutional protection from the broadly construed contraceptive requirements in ObamaCare because “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.”

This is tantamount to saying that if you’re a Christian, you have no right to run a business based on your religious principles. Even a belief as closely held as opposition to abortion is not enough, the judge said, to supersede the government’s “compelling interest” in providing birth control coverage, including abortifacients.

Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that grew from a mom-and-pop operation in the 1970s to a chain of 514 stores now employing 13,240 people full-time, is the largest company yet to challenge the health care law. The company’s statement of purpose says the board of directors is committed, first and foremost, to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” 

But in its brief to the court, the Obama administration argued that, “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.” In the administration’s opinion, the religious beliefs of any company’s owners are irrelevant when weighed against a federal mandate to pay for birth control. The qualms of the religious, in this view, are “too attenuated to qualify as a substantial burden.”

One of the great conceits of ObamaCare is the assumption, implied in its many rules and mandates, that those who oppose the law would eventually cast their convictions aside and just go along with it.

The administration did not foresee—indeed, could not even imagine—that state governors would opt out of the Medicaid expansion or refuse to establish health insurance exchanges, as an increasing number are now doing. There is no provision in the law for such a contingency, and it is not at all clear that ObamaCare will work without the full acquiescence of the states.

Neither did it occur to the law’s authors that millions of uninsured Americans might just choose to pay a penalty rather than comply with the individual mandate, or that some companies would choose to cut employee hours to avoid having to pay for costly, benefit-laden coverage to full-time employees. 

But perhaps most shocking was the administration’s hubris in assuming that religious organizations, business owners, and individuals with deeply held beliefs about contraception and abortion would agree to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs such as the morning-after pill. Were federal officials surprised when the Catholic Church objected to mandated contraceptive coverage? Did they really think Catholic-owned hospitals and universities would accept such a rule? Did they think conservative Christian schools like Wheaton College—which forbids alcohol, tobacco, and even unsanctioned dancing on its campus—would somehow be willing to provide its employees with morning-after pills and other abortifacients? 

The only explanation for these gross miscalculations is that the liberals and progressives who crafted the health care law do not take seriously the convictions of Americans who oppose abortion and contraception on religious or moral grounds. To them, such convictions are repugnant, backward, and intolerable—and those who hold them should keep quiet about it. 

In the government’s brief for the Hobby Lobby case, we see a wholesale dismissal of the moral convictions of the company’s owners that borders on contempt. But there is something even more insidious in the argument: the assertion that “for-profit” businesses are inherently secular, that corporations have no rights to freedom of speech or religion, and that even if they did, they are nothing compared to the government’s “compelling interest” in health care reform.

This amounts not only to a kind of secular diktat in the public square, but also to a refutation of numerous Supreme Court decisions that affirm First Amendment rights for private citizens and also for voluntary associations, including corporations.

But it is not at all clear the administration will succeed. Last month, a nearly identical federal suit went in favor of a Christian publishing company, which won a preliminary injuction exempting it from the contraception mandate, as did a separate suit filed by a Catholic business owner. Dozens of other lawsuits are on the way. As administration officials push ahead with the implementation of ObamaCare, they should know that this fight will likely go to the Supreme Court, and they should remember that companies are run by real people with real beliefs, who will not lightly cast their religious convictions aside—no matter what the government orders them to do.