Today is a huge day in the fight for religious liberty and individual freedom. In our nation’s capital, two cases are being heard by two separate courts that will go a long way toward determining the future of our freedom to exercise our religious beliefs and our freedom from the tyranny of presidents that ignore our Constitution.
The first case, Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, is being heard by The Supreme Court. This case concerns the Contraception Mandate of ObamaCare that forces employers to provide health insurance for their employees that covers “essential health benefits” as defined by ObamaCare. These benefits include free contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and abortifacients (drugs that induce abortion) such as the “morning-after pill” (Plan B) and the “week-after pill” (Ella). They also include intrauterine devices that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, thus terminating life.
Hobby Lobby is a large chain of arts and crafts stores owned by David Green and his family, evangelical Christians from Kansas. Mr. Green argues the law violates his religious freedom by imposing upon him regulations contrary to his religious faith. The Greens operate their business on religious principles and give generously out of the profits of the company to support religious institutions and other philanthropy. They even have chaplains on the premises of their headquarters in Kansas to provide marriage counseling and other spiritual services to employees.
Hobby Lobby’s complaint asks the federal government to exempt it from having to provide these abortifacient drugs and procedures. Failure to comply with the law would impose fines on the company of $1.3 Million per day if they are not exempt. If they decline to provide insurance at all they will face fines of $2000/employee/year. Hobby Lobby has over 13,000 employees in over 500 stores nationwide.
The company won its appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver which found that “associations”, whether nonprofit churches or for-profit corporations, were entitled to religious rights. Among other authorities, the 10th Circuit cited Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision holding that corporations held First Amendment free-speech rights protecting them from limits on political spending. However, the Obama Administration appealed and the Supreme Court granted their request to be heard.
A second business, Conestoga Wood Specialties, has also appealed to the Supreme Court on this same issue and their case has been combined with Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius. Norman and Elizabeth Hahn of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a Mennonite Christian family, own this business. They also object to the provisions of the law that require them to provide drugs and procedures that terminate lives.
Conestoga Wood Specialties lost their case in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by a 2-1 ruling. The dissenting Judge Kent Jordan wrote, “The government takes us down a rabbit hole where religious rights are determined by the tax code.” Thus Conestoga appealed to the Supreme Court.
Today that court will hear the case for both businesses. The question put before the highest court is simply, “Whether the religious owners of a family business, or their closely-held, for-profit corporation, have free exercise rights that are violated by the application of the contraception-coverage mandate of the ACA.” The answer holds huge implications for all Americans of all religious beliefs.
The second case heard today in Washington, D.C. is Halbig v. Sebelius, which concerns the lawless overreach of President Obama in altering the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). Halbig v. Sebelius challenges the Obama administration’s alteration of the portion of the law that stipulated that only state-established exchanges could grant subsidies to individuals that were eligible based on means testing. The original text of the ACA clearly states that subsidies are only available to people who enroll “through an Exchange established by the State.” The question in this lawsuit is whether these taxpayer subsidies can be distributed through the federal exchanges, as the Obama Administration insists.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board points out that this issue was hotly debated in the Congress before the law was passed. Democrats were divided over the structure of the exchanges, with liberals favoring a national clearinghouse and moderates state control. The federalists (those favoring state control) won and conditioned the subsidies on state-based exchanges.
This is an important issue. Our government was established as a federalist institution that cannot commandeer the sovereign states under the Constitution. (The Supreme Court struck down the original portion of the law that tried to commandeer the states to accept the Medicaid expansion on this very principle.) Therefore, Democrats created an incentive for Governors to participate voluntarily. Failure to accept the establishment of state exchanges would deny those states the benefit of the subsidies.
But 34 states declined to establish state exchanges and two others failed to meet the HHS deadlines. So the Obama Administration decided to ignore the law and improvise a work around through writing new regulations. This lawsuit seeks to undo this lawless rewriting of the law. The White House fears they will lose this appeal and have already tried to lobby that any adverse ruling only applies to the named plaintiffs.
This issue is really about more than the authority of the federal government to compel the sovereign states to follow their agenda. In a much larger sense it is about reigning in the lawlessness of this president who has ignored the Constitution and made whatever changes to the law that suit his political plans. It is imperative that the Judicial Branch of the government constrain the Executive Branch when it has overreached its Constitutional boundaries.
Two cases; two huge principles – religious freedom and the freedom from tyranny codified by the Constitution. It is a day of monumental consequences for our great nation and a day for prayer by all Americans who value these vital liberties.