As many young Americans celebrated on the 4th of July, probably the last thing on their mind was the craft giant, Hobby Lobby. After all, what does a chain of craft stores have to do with hot dogs, fireworks, and American Independence?
A lot more than you would think.
On Monday (June 30, 2014), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in a narrow, 5-4 decision, that Hobby Lobby could not be forced by the federal government to pay for certain types of abortion-inducing contraceptives as part of its health-care coverage. Hobby Lobby already covers most common contraceptives, but there are four that its evangelical owners objected to based on their deeply held beliefs.
The court ruled that a privately held corporation, with religious owners, cannot have its religious freedom violated like this. Following the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton), the state must show a compelling public interest if it is to impinge upon religious freedom. There are limits to religious freedom, where one’s religious freedom collides with a compelling state interest. But the state is forced to prove its interest, and in the case of the health care mandate, the government failed to do so.
Some have said this ruling is tantamount to a boss “pushing its religious views” on its employees or deciding which kinds of contraceptives its employees could choose. But this is not the case at all. In fact, employees are free to choose the contraceptives of their choice, but a privately held corporation cannot be forced to pay for them in violation of their religious beliefs. There is a distinct difference here in an employer being forced to pay for something and the right of the employee to seek that on his or her own.
Christians should cheer this ruling, not only because it gives relief to the devoutly evangelical Green Family, owners of Hobby Lobby, but because it protects all religious beliefs in America. As Christians, we pray, as Paul instructed Timothy, that the government provides social margin for us to practice our faith (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, it doesn’t fear competition in the marketplace. Freedom of religion for Christianity is freedom of religion for all.
Christians should cheer this ruling and continue advocate for religious liberty in this country, because freedom and liberty help pave the way for gospel advance. Think of all the thousands of missionaries who have been sent to unreached people groups from the free and prosperous soil of America. Think of all the good social work done by Christians in American to help alleviate human suffering. Think of the Christian business owners, throughout the years, who have funded gospel advance. Religious freedom, for individuals and for Christian business owners, is not incidental to gospel advance.
At a time when religious freedom is imperiled around the world, when our brothers and sisters in many countries are being driven from their homes, attacked, and often slaughtered for naming the name of Christ, it’s refreshing that America still stands as a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge. Our unique system of government, designed so wisely by the Founders, restricts any one branch of government from taking too much power and from a government growing so big it can pave over the consciences of individuals. Even those who disagree with the Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby will benefit from the wide umbrella of religious freedom this offers.
Jesus reminded us that while the State has God-given authority, it is still not ultimate. Some things, like taxes, belong to Caesar. But other things, like the conscience, belong to a higher authority: God Almighty. A government small enough to recognize this is the best kind of government in a fallen world, creating a society where religious freedom flourishes and nourishes those it is called to serve.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). For five years, Dan served as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and his latest, Activist Faith. He is a weekly contributor to Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal. His work has been featured in evangelical publications such as Relevant Magazine, Homelife, Focus on the Family, Marriage Partnership, In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley. He has guest-posted on leading blogs such as Michael Hyatt, The Gospel Coalition, OnFaith (Washington Post), and others. He is a contributing writer for many publications including Stand Firm, Enrichment Journal and others. Dan’s op-eds have appeared in Washington Posts’ On Faith, CNN.com's Belief Blog, and other newspapers and opinion sites. He is a featured writer for Christianity.com, Crosswalk.com, Churchleaders.com and Believe.com, Covenant Eyes, G92, and others. Publisher's Weekly called his writing style "substantive and punchy." Dan is a sought-after speaker and has been interviewed on TV and radio outlets across the country, including CNN, 100 Huntley Street, Moody Broadcasting Network, Harvest Television, The Sandy Rios Show, American Family Radio, the Salem Radio Network, and a host of other local and national Christian media. He holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College and is pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area. Daniel is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency.