July 10, 2014

​After Hobby Lobby Ruling, Leaders Rally Around RFRA

BY GREGORY TOMLIN ©2014 Baptist Press

diverse coalition of church and synagogue leaders has penned a letter to
congressional leaders asking them to renew support for the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act.

Citing the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Russell D. Moore,
president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission, and other leaders from around the country expressed concern that
the 1993 law guaranteeing religious rights from overt government intrusion may
soon come under attack because of its role in the June 30 landmark case.

In the letter addressed to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R.-Ohio, House
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
D.-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., the signatories
asked congressional leaders to stand firm against efforts to "amend or
repeal RFRA, one of our nation's most vital legal protections for the religious
freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith."

"Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of
the law would set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of
religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be
unpopular at the moment. Congress has never passed legislation with the
specific purpose of reducing Americans' religious freedom. It should not
consider doing so now," the letter reads.

The Supreme Court, in its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Mardel and Conestoga
Wood Specialties, held that RFRA allows "closely-held" or family
owned companies to establish administrative policies and business practices in
line with their religious convictions.

In this case, those beliefs caused the Green and Hahn families, owners of the
three businesses, to resist federal mandates in the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
to provide abortion-inducing contraceptives in their health insurance plans.
Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion for the majority, noted this is
precisely the scenario for which RFRA was designed.

In RFRA, Congress provided protection for people like the defendants "by
employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA's
definition of 'persons,'" Alito wrote. "But it is important to keep
in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human
beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to
achieve desired ends."

Alito noted, "When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are
extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these

Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga
and Mardel "protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and
control those companies," Alito wrote.

According to the letter from religious leaders, the nation's high court rightly
affirmed that all Americans – including family business owners – are guaranteed
religious liberty as they live and, importantly, work.

"When President Clinton signed RFRA into law over twenty years ago, he
finalized the work of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the United States
House and Senate. Only three Members of Congress voted against RFRA. Not one of
Congress's 535 Members suggested that this landmark new law would not protect a
person's free exercise of religion if she chose to provide for herself, her
family, and her employees by starting a business," the letter stated.

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