Faith Leaders Ask Congressional Leaders to Stand Firm Against Efforts to “Amend or Repeal” RFRA

Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A diverse coalition of church and synagogue leaders has penned a letter to congressional leaders asking them to renew support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and other leaders from around the country expressed concern that the 1993 law guaranteeing religious rights from overt government intrusion may soon come under attack because of its role in the June 30 landmark case.

In the letter addressed to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R.-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., the signatories asked congressional leaders to stand firm against efforts to “amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation’s most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith.”

“Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of the law would set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be unpopular at the moment. Congress has never passed legislation with the specific purpose of reducing Americans’ religious freedom. It should not consider doing so now,” the letter reads.

The Supreme Court, in its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Mardel and Conestoga Wood Specialties, held that RFRA allows “closely-held” or family owned companies to establish administrative policies and business practices in line with their religious convictions.

In this case, those beliefs caused the Green and Hahn families, owners of the three businesses, to resist federal mandates in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide abortion-inducing contraceptives in their health insurance plans. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion for the majority, noted this is precisely the scenario for which RFRA was designed.

In RFRA, Congress provided protection for people like the defendants “by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of ‘persons,'” Alito wrote. “But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.”

Alito noted, “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and Mardel “protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies,” Alito wrote.

According to the letter from religious leaders, the nation’s high court rightly affirmed that all Americans – including family business owners – are guaranteed religious liberty as they live and, importantly, work.

“When President Clinton signed RFRA into law over twenty years ago, he finalized the work of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the United States House and Senate. Only three Members of Congress voted against RFRA. Not one of Congress’s 535 Members suggested that this landmark new law would not protect a person’s free exercise of religion if she chose to provide for herself, her family, and her employees by starting a business,” the letter stated.

“In the United States, freedom of religion has always included — and should always include — the right to live out one’s religion and act according to one’s conscience outside the walls of one’s house of worship. Every single day, millions of Americans are motivated by their faith to go and serve the neediest among us. The good works of these individuals of faith can be seen in soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, hospices — and, yes, family-owned businesses.

“For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet ‘a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion.'”

Moore, in a conference call with reporters June 30, said Alito’s use of the RFRA in the Supreme Court ruling was a “rebuke” that had “knocked back any objections in the strongest terms.”

“Christians should see this as not just a win for Christians. The Greens [owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel] are Baptists and the Hahns [Conestoga’s owners] are Mennonites. But this is a win for religious liberty for all people,” Moore said. “A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens and the Hahns is a government that can do anything.”

Moore also told reporters that religious liberty should be “absolutely non-controversial in America,” but he admitted that two different visions of religious liberty are in play in the country. One of those was expressed by Alito in his opinion for the court’s majority. The other was expressed by the White House following the ruling.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Gregory Tomlin

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