What is the Hobby Lobby Case All About?


by Aaron Earls

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in two pivotal cases related to religious freedom.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius have made their way through the court system and the Supreme Court will now decide if the for-profit companies, both owned and run by Christians, will be forced to provide specific methods of birth control the companies deem to be the equivalent of abortion and a violation of their religious convictions.

To get a general recap of the case, both sides of the argument and the potential ramifications of a ruling, Pew answers five basic questions about the case, while RNS has an introductory piece covering the issue.

In an in-depth profile of Steve Green, current president of Hobby Lobby, RNS answers why the head of a $3.3 billion company would risk his business over providing certain types of contraceptives.

While no one knows how the Supreme Court will decide, the majority of  American people seem to side with the government.

In 2012, LifeWay Research found most agreed that religious charities (53 percent), non-profit organizations (56 percent) and businesses (63 percent) should be required to provide contraceptives even if they contradict the religious principles of the owners.

Similarly, in 2012, Public Religion Research Institute found a majority of Americans (55 percent) agree “employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.”

The question facing the Supreme Court is much narrower, however, as it deals only with a refusal to provide only certain types of contraceptives due to a religious conviction.

Green makes it clear their company provides coverage for 16 of the FDA-approved forms of birth control, but they refuse to cover those the FDA acknowledges could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

He says, “We won’t pay for any abortive products. We believe life begins at conception.”

These factors may be why a 2014 LifeWay Research poll found a clear majority of senior pastors (70 percent) and a slim majority of Americans (54 percent) believe religious liberty is on the decline.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Rick Warren makes that very case.

In this case, the administration is insisting that those who form and operate a family business based on religious beliefs must disobey what they believe is God’s standard in order to obey the government’s program. The administration wants everyone to render unto Caesar not only what is Caesar’s but also what is God’s. If it wins, the first purpose on which the United States was founded would be severely damaged.

I used to own the letter that President Thomas Jefferson penned in February 1809 to the Methodist Episcopal Church of New London, Conn. (The Greens now own it because I wanted them to have it.) In that letter, Jefferson thundered, “No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.” My prayer is that the Supreme Court will agree with Jefferson.

Baylor president and former U.S. Solicitor General, Ken Starr argues that something precious could be lost in this case.

If the Supreme Court accepts the government’s formalistic argument, it will deal an unnecessary blow to the cause of religious liberty and simply create incentives for families of conscience to carry on their business enterprise in another form. The Greens will, win or lose, be able to carry on and continue their admirable mission to serve a cause higher and nobler than their own commercial success. But something very valuable – the nation’s historic commitment to religious freedom – will have been needlessly compromised.

At the Wall Street Journal, Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Hamza Yusuf, president of the first Muslim liberal arts college in America, predict a loss by the government.

The reason that government is likely to lose in the Hobby Lobby case, however, is that there are so many ways for the government to distribute these drugs—on its own exchanges, through the Title X family-planning program and by cooperating with willing distributors—that do not require the forced participation of conscientious objectors. That presumably is why an effort is now being made to cut back on the robust conception of religious freedom that once united Americans of all faiths and even unbelievers.

Is this about abortion? At The Heritage Foundation, a Washington D.C. think tank, Sarah Torre insists the case is about freedom, regardless of your position on the hot button cultural issue.

This debate isn’t about whether the Greens and Hahns are correct in their beliefs. You don’t need to agree with the families’ expression of their faith or share their opposition to abortion to know that the government shouldn’t force any American to violate their conscience in order to create jobs and make a living. Religious liberty, after all, includes the right to be wrong.

But religious liberty can only be meaningful if it applies to everyone—not just those the government deems worthy. Which is why all Americans should hope the Supreme Court rules against the Obama Administration’s narrow view of faith.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is arguing in favor of Hobby Lobby and created this infographic:


Aaron Earls (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.

photo credit: Mark Fischer via photopin cc


  1. […] Lobby was already covering 16 different birth control methods, which account for the types used by 93% of American women. They will continue to provide coverage for those 16 and will not (and cannot) prevent any employee […]

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