Opinion

The fight for religious liberty isn’t over

Rep. Andy Harris Congressman, Maryland 1st District

The holiday season always makes me think of how fortunate we are to be able to celebrate whatever religious holidays we choose, or to be able to choose our place of worship — liberties that many take for granted here in America. But growing up in the Ukraine, my mother saw churches burned by government agents who had no respect for freedom of religion. After World War II, she met my father, a Hungarian fleeing Communist oppression, in a displaced persons camp in Austria. Together, they fled their native countries for the United States, a country where they could enjoy many freedoms, including the freedom of religion.

What Americans are witnessing happening today to religious freedom in America is tantamount to what my mother witnessed in the Ukraine. The Obama administration is attacking this freedom, not with a torch, but with a pen — not with a flame, but with a mandate. That mandate is the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which forces employers to pay for all 20 FDA-approved forms of contraception, including the “morning-after pill” and other abortion-inducing drugs.

Some companies object to having to pay for some, if not all, of the mandated drugs because paying for them would violate their religious beliefs. The most notable example has been Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of craft stores owned and operated by the Greens, a Christian family which seeks to run their business “in harmony with God’s laws.” For instance, they keep their stores closed on Sundays so that workers can enjoy a day of rest. Despite a truncated work week, they’ve added jobs in a slow economy and pay employees an average of 90 percent above the minimum wage, with generous benefits, including health insurance.

The Green family’s story is a real American success story: They grew Hobby Lobby from a $600 start-up garage business into one of the country’s largest arts-and-crafts retailers, with more than 500 stores in 41 states.

While the Green family does not object to the use of 16 of 20 contraceptives required in the mandate (and will continue covering these preventive contraceptives for its employees), they won’t pay for four possibly life-threatening drugs and devices, including the morning-after pill and the week-after pill. Covering these drugs and devices would violate their religious belief that life begins at conception, when an egg is fertilized and a human being is formed.

Hobby Lobby faced a choice: Go against your conscience and stay in business, or remain faithful to your beliefs and be severely fined by the IRS. Last December, Hobby Lobby chose the latter and, indeed, has risked a $1.4-million-per-day fine to fight the law.

“The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law,” Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green wrote in a letter to his stores after filing the lawsuit. “I say that’s a choice no American and no American business should have to make.”

The Obama administration does not understand that freedom of religion in America isn’t confined by church walls. The Greens live and breathe their Christian beliefs, exemplified in the company they own. And it’s not just private companies that are suffering under the Obamacare mandate. Christian schools, universities, medical clinics, and even soup kitchens all face huge financial penalties for not complying with this Affordable Care Act mandate.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case brought by Hobby Lobby, the first step in what will hopefully be a victory for the Greens and other business owners who would otherwise be forced to violate their religious beliefs.

Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes the right decision this spring, when it is slated to hear this important case. The Supreme Court must acknowledge the full scope of religious freedom in American daily life — from the lives of our founding fathers, to the lives of immigrants like my parents, all the way to the lives of families like the Greens.