The Green Family, the HHS Mandate, and Religious Freedom

Travis Weber is Director, Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared on, February 10, 2014.

Today the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, will submit its brief in the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The case will determine whether the Green family will be forced to choose between four bad options: violating their faith and providing drugs and services to their employees in their healthcare plan, to which they morally object; pay massive fines of up to $100 per day per employee for non-compliance; drop healthcare coverage for their employees and their families altogether; or close their doors and go out of business.

These are, frankly, no choices at all, and the Greens have invoked their constitutional rights and statutory protections to ensure they can freely practice their religion.

As the Family Research Council argued in our amicus brief to the Supreme Court in this case, religious exercise encompasses many areas of life, including one's work life. In his recent Forbes piece "So What If Corporations Aren't People," Ilya Shapiro makes the point that the workplace is not divorced from the need to make "moral choices" regarding issues that "rang[e] from wages to working conditions to competitive practices." The Greens faced a moral choice regarding whether to provide drugs which can destroy human embryos to their employees, which violates their faith, or risk massive fines for non-compliance with the HHS mandate. As Shapiro says, such matters "squarely implicate religious teachings" regardless of whether the Greens structure their business as a for-profit, non-profit or religious organization.

With the passage of Obamacare, for the first time in American history federal law requires individuals to violate their moral beliefs by forcing them to pay for items and services they oppose in private health insurance plans provided through their own companies. This will inevitably force individuals and business owners across the land to either violate their conscience and provide these products and services, to which they object, or pay crippling fines for non-compliance, or drop healthcare coverage for their employees and employees' families altogether and pay a lesser fine. Consequently, this mandate puts the jobs, livelihoods, and healthcare of millions of Americans at risk.

As FRC stated in its amicus brief, "religious exercise does not necessarily confine itself to discrete locations, activities, or aspects of participation in the life of a community, but can permeate a person's daily behavior, from the mundane to the commercial." There is no debate as to whether the Greens, devout Christians, can provide certain drugs which can destroy human embryos without violating their religion. There is also no debate that many Americans share the Greens' convictions. The only open question in this case is whether the freedom of religion (including the freedom to live and work according to one's beliefs) or this intrusive federal mandate on family business owners to provide their employees with free drugs and services, to which they morally object, will prevail.

The federal government should not force its citizens to violate their religious beliefs just to freely operate a business in their own country, The Green family will shortly find out whether their government will demand that they do so. The religious liberty of many similar families across the land is likewise hanging on the Court's decision.