Today the Supreme Court of the United States made a ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which was formerly called Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, in which it ruled through the well-written majority opinion of Justice Samuel Alito that Hobby Lobby, while being compelled under the Affordable Care Act to offer insurance coverage to its employees, is not required to cover things such as abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, or contraception which may conflict with the religious beliefs of the company’s owners, the Green family. The Court essentially held that incorporated companies can also “exercise religion” under the First Amendment. Alito held that Hobby Lobby and similar businesses are already protected in law under a 1993 statute called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. Justice Alito writes:
We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488,42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq., permits the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to demand that three closely held corporations provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.
Interestingly, the Court used as a primary precedent a 1961 decision, Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., in which the proprietors of a Kosher market, who were orthodox Jews, were seeking relief from the Sunday closing laws which existed in Massachusetts at that time. It seems that the owners of Crown Market were already closed on Saturday, and so wanted to do business on Sunday, when a third of their weekly business took place, while the Commonwealth of Massachusetts attempted to tell them that they could not. The Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that a company, Crown Kosher Super Market, could practice a religion, and so the Supreme Court today ruled that the same precedent applies to Hobby Lobby, as well as to another family business, Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania-based concern owned by a Mennonite family, and to similar “close concern” family businesses. These aren’t companies owned by Catholics, but this ruling may apply more to Catholics than to some others.
On the same day that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has given EWTN an injunction of temporary relief from the Health And Human Services mandate as it relates to the Affordable Care Act while it continues to pursue its case through the federal courts against this mandate from the federal government which would require them to act against the most basic and fundamental principles of our Catholic faith.
East Tennessee Catholics may remember that over two years ago, Bishop Stika said that the Diocese of Knoxville wouldn’t cover anything in its insurance plans that the Church deems to be immoral, including contraception and abortion. The administration’s so-called health care mandate could apply to the diocese because the diocese employs non-Catholics in many of its institutions and programs. Bishop Stika has not been willing to budge.
As Catholic Christians, we do not actively seek confrontation with the state, nor is it our intention to live in an environment of confrontation with the state, for St. Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-7:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
St. Peter’s First Epistle (2:13-17) uses very similar language:
For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
It is clear then, if we are to take these scriptural teachings as apostolic authority, and the Church has always taught that we should take them that way, that a good Catholic should never seek a confrontation with the governing authorities, but neither should that same good Catholic be a pushover, abandoning the faith and its principles at the command of the state. This is what many do not not seem to understand. “Honoring the emperor,” a passage some translations render as “honor the king,” does not extend to denying the faith, and so a mandate that essentially forces us to do that is something that we cannot wear.
I was recently asked by a fellow Catholic if I considered myself a Catholic first, or an American first. I suspect that the person thought that I would say that I am an American first, but my answer was clear. I love this country, and it has truly given us freedom in so many ways, even to conduct the ministry of this weblog with the Church’s sanction freely without censure from the government. That is a right that does not exist in many parts of the world, such as China, Iran, or now even many parts of Iraq, and elsewhere. I would die for my country, but my country did not die for me, Jesus Christ did that, and I am a member of his Body first, last, and and always.
The Holy Catholic Church existed long before the United States of America was ever a glint in anyone’s eye or a thought in anyone’s mind, and since I believe Christ’s words about his Church are absolutely true (cf. Mt. 16:13-19), the Church will still be going long after this nation as we know it is a memory. Our present troublesome government would do well to remember that the Church survived and ultimately conquered pagan Rome, we survived the penal laws and the oppression of the British Isles in the 16th and 17th Century, when even celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was banned, we survived fascism, and survived and ultimately destroyed European Communism. We can certainly survive the United States government. After all, we have a far more powerful Divine ally.
St. Thomas More, Pray for Us!