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Legatus Magazine

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Kevin Theriot | author
Sep 01, 2014
Filed under Columns
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Supreme Court affirms liberty

Kevin Theriot: The Supreme Court made the right call in the Hobby Lobby case . . .

Kevin Theriot

Kevin Theriot

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a remarkable decision on June 30 in favor of religious liberty against the Obama administration’s abortion-pill mandate.

The Court’s ruling is especially noteworthy because the radical left (which lost) often casts itself as the protector of civil rights. In fact, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal law the Court used to protect the religious convictions of these family businesses (Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby), was championed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and was signed in 1993 with much pomp and circumstance by then-President Bill Clinton. But the liberal establishment has shown its true colors by sharply criticizing the Court’s affirmation that religious liberty is more important than the government’s interest in coercing employers to violate their deepest religious convictions regarding abortion and reproduction.

The Court’s ruling broadly protects people of faith (and their businesses) from those who would seek to repeal our constitutionally protected freedoms, as the U.S. Senate itself recently tried and failed to do. Five Supreme Court justices unequivocally held that government officials don’t get to decide whether a law violates someone’s conscience. That’s a determination only the religious individual or entity can make.

This is significant because the Obama administration has argued from the beginning that forcing family-owned businesses to provide religiously objectionable drugs, devices, and procedures only minimally affects their religious liberty. The Supreme Court rejected that argument out of hand, and rightly so. After all, neither government officials nor judges, for that matter, have the ability to determine how important a religious conviction is or when it’s violated. The ruling for Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby settles this issue. From now on, if people of faith demonstrate that their religious convictions are sincere, and the government is placing substantial pressure on them to violate these convictions, they can invoke the protection of federal law.

After it is clear that a government edict is burdening religious freedom, government officials must then prove that they have a compelling reason to justify this restriction on religion. This is what is known as the “compelling interest test,” the strictest test for protecting civil rights. It means the government must have an extremely good reason — on the level of protecting national security or the ability to collect taxes — to justify the law.

Importantly, that reason cannot be general but must specifically apply to the individual who is being coerced to violate their religious conscience. For instance, lower courts have held that the government’s general interest in protecting women’s health is not a compelling interest — especially since there are so many exceptions to the administration’s mandate (like grandfathered plans, which may never have to comply if they don’t change). The interest is not very “compelling” if the government itself allows numerous exceptions to its rule.

Another important aspect of the compelling interest test is that the law must be the least restrictive way of accomplishing the government’s objective. The legal term for this is “narrow tailoring,” and it is what the Supreme Court used to rule in favor of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby. Because the government already has developed less intrusive, alternative ways to provide coverage of abortifacients and sterilization for women, the mandate’s attempt to force the businesses of religious families to provide these items directly was not the narrowest option.

In addition to the Hahn family, the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, the Alliance Defending Freedom also represents, in other cases, several brave and devout Catholic families. These include the Newlands, Legatus members and the owners of Hercules Industries in Colorado. ADF secured the very first injunction against the mandate on the Newlands’ behalf. The Grotes in Illinois are also Legates. ADF and its allied attorneys represented them in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. ADF was able to obtain an injunction protecting their freedom as well. Based on the Conestoga- Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court affirmed both injunctions.

These victories pave the way for Catholic owners of family businesses across the country to live by their convictions and not include abortifacients, contraception, sterilization, or counseling regarding these things in their health care plans.

The implications for religious freedom are profound for all Americans. The Supreme Court has shown it will not tolerate government officials trampling on religious freedom in a headlong charge to further an anti-life agenda.

KEVIN THERIOT is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Hahn family and Conestoga Wood Specialties in their lawsuit against the Obama administration’s abortion-pill mandate.

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