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Posted on Thu. Mar. 27, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT


Hobby Lobby case pits government's religion against the real thing

Local shop owner would close rather than fund abortion; others may follow

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Perhaps it's just as well that the Abba House only has two full-time employees. If it had 48 more, they might all lose their jobs depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court decides this summer.

“I would make the decision to close. At that point, I would have no choice,” said Dennis Hutchings, who opened the religious gift shop at 3209 N. Anthony Blvd. as an expression of his Roman Catholic faith 18 years ago but watched warily this week as attorneys argued whether the “Affordable” Care Act requires family owned businesses to provide medical coverage that violates their religious beliefs.

The case before the court was brought by Hobby Lobby, which has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 craft stores in 41 states, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a cabinetmaker with nearly 1,000 workers. But those two firms represent but a small fraction of the family owned companies who may soon be forced by their own government to choose between their temporal existence and their immortal souls.

Hutchings' Catholic Church considers abortion to be intrinsically evil, and although Hobby Lobby's owners are evangelical Christians and Conestoga's are Mennonites, they apparently agree. And so they are asking to be exempted from having to supply employees with insurance that would pay for birth-control medication or procedures they believe would terminate human life.

Although some of the slippery-slope arguments made against the companies' position are legitimate – if they prevail, won't other firms seek similar protections for beliefs that are not quite so mainstream – the fact that no such exemptions have previously been granted indicates this case has more to do with government overreach than with misogynistic religious zealotry.

Even If one accepts Roe v. Wade's dubious premise that Americans possess a right to an abortion, it does not inevitably follow that Americans have a right to free abortion any more than the Second Amendment obligates the government or employers to provide free firearms. It's not as if contraception isn't readily and inexpensively available even without insurance. But as perennial swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy noted this week, the Obama Administration's argument, if successful, could force companies to pay for abortions. If the government can do that, the First Amendment means nothing.

Nor was Justice Sandra Kagen's let-them-eat-cake suggestion any less ludicrous. If Hobby Lobby and other companies choose to avoid Obamacare mandates by not offering coverage, they would pay penalties of $2,000 per employee and risk being uncompetitive in the labor market. What's more, as Chief Justice John Roberts noted, “I thought the religious commitment of the (Hobby Lobby) owners was to provide health care for employees.”

And that, really, is the issue here: The Obama administration is grudgingly willing to allow freedom of religion so long as it is confined to religious institutions or within sanctuary walls. But to Christians and others, faith must inevitably be expressed in daily life through acts of compassion. The two cannot be separated, and trading Christian charity for free morning-after pills is a fool's bargain.

Perhaps, as Vatican Chief Justice Polonia Christiana noted this week, the Obama administration “promotes anti-life and anti-family policies (that) have become progressively more hostile to Christian civilization.” But as my own former pastor and current Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison wrote this week, “The government does not get to reduce God and the way in which he works down to what happens only in church or worship . . . We cannot allow our government to define the content of our beliefs or the degree of their significance.”

Hutchings has no intention of doing so regardless of the cost, and no doubt countless other Americans will join him if necessary.

“We have a responsibility to pay taxes and uphold laws, but there comes a time when government is too intrusive and says, 'We don't car what you believe. You have to do things our way.' But everybody has a right to live, and government can't demand you go against your principles.

“I hope and pray we get back to normalcy in the way our government is run.”

That government, not coincidentally, includes people like Sen. Barbara Boxer, R-Calif., who accused Hobby Lobby of being “anti-woman” for objecting to birth control but not Viagra for men. Can she – and many others, apparently -- really be stupid enough to confuse a bill that creates an erection with one millions believe ends life? Can they really be stupid enough to pass a law that gives businesses like Hutchings' a profound reason to avoid hiring more people?

That question was purely rhetorical.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.

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