By Kristina Arriaga
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby on March 25, a case that deals with the right of a family to operate a business according to their deeply held convictions. This is a case of vital importance to Americans who believe that the government should protect principled business owners who care about more than just the bottom line.
This also is a topic of particular relevance. In fact, British newspapers recently reported that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said the company often looks beyond the bottom line. The newspaper described a “heated exchange with a conservative group that pushed for refrain from putting money in green energy projects that were not profitable…” The CEO “shot back” that Apple did “a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive.”
Many other large companies follow suit. Google, for instance, proclaims: “You can make money without doing evil.” Starbucks considers itself “a force for positive action.” Whole Foods states on its website “our core values are not just words on a wall somewhere: they’re guiding principles that inform every decision we make …”
In February, CVS, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, announced it would phase out cigarettes “to help people on their path to better health.” This is a move, the press reported, that will cost CVS about $2 billion in annual revenue. President Barack Obama even praised the decision, calling it a “powerful example.”
And I wholeheartedly agree it is.
However, the government has taken an entirely different position on the Hobby Lobby case. They claim that the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, can no longer operate their family business according to their deeply held convictions.
This is unprecedented and unconstitutional.
The Greens founded Hobby Lobby in their garage and turned it into a company that employs over 25,000 individuals in 41 states. (Full disclosure: I am executive director of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm that defends the free expression of all religious traditions. The Becket Fund represents Hobby Lobby.)
They believe in investing in their employees’ welfare by paying almost twice the minimum wage. They care about work/life balance so they only open 66 hours a week and close on Sundays. They provide excellent health benefits.
However, the government is now threatening them with crushing IRS fines. Why? Because the Affordable Care Act’s Health and Human Services mandate obliges Hobby Lobby to provide 20 FDA-approved drugs. The Greens already cover 16 of the mandated contraceptives. However, they do not provide four of the drugs because the Greens are devout Christians and, as the government itself concedes, these four drugs can act to terminate life.
The Greens say they do not object to any of their employees purchasing or using these drugs; they just cannot participate in the payment or distribution.
The government, which exempted more than 100 million Americans from this requirement for commercial and political reasons, refuses to grant the Greens a waiver. To make their point, they have threatened the Greens with fines of $36,500 per employee per year. That is roughly $1.6 million dollars per day.
The government’s position is extreme and it is wrong. Americans can enter into business and operate their businesses according to their deeply held convictions. This is a right that was reaffirmed only 20 years ago by former
President Bill Clinton, who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law championed by the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and adopted by Congress with practically unanimous support. The U.S. Supreme Court should uphold the rights of the Greens. It is good for business and it is good for America.
- The writer is the executive director of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a resident of Alexandria.