This Independence Day, Celebrate the Victories for Religious Freedom at the Supreme Court

National   |   Bill Saunders   |   Jul 4, 2014   |   1:39PM   |   Washington, DC

For decades, pro-abortion advocacy groups have tried to soften the public perception of their agenda behind a feel-good phrase “pro-choice.” But as the cases decided this past week by the U.S. Supreme Court show, “coercion” more aptly describes their goals. The Massachusetts law unanimously struck down in McCullen v. Coakley criminalized the offer of alternatives to abortion on public sidewalks. And the mandate at the center of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases was about government control, not about healthcare.

Part of the Massachusetts government’s argument in McCullen, that the First Circuit had accepted, was that the no-pro-life-speech zone they created on public sidewalks did not prevent Eleanor McCullen and the other petitioners in the case from engaging in various forms of “protest” outside the zone. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, very strongly responded: “That misses the point. Petitioners are not protesters.”

supremecourt6The Court recognized that the no-pro-life-speech zone changes the voice, the tone, and thus the identity and message of a speaker wishing to offer alternatives to abortion. The Massachusetts law forced anyone speaking in favor of alternatives to abortion to scream or be silent, to be loud or be absent.

In striking down the coercive Massachusetts law, a unanimous Court upheld both the right of pro-life advocates to choose their voice and for women to be offered true choices.

The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases likewise dealt with government coercion. The healthcare legislation known as “Obamacare” is chock-full of mandates. The particular one at issue in these cases threatened to cripple family-run businesses with religious objections to providing and paying for insurance coverage for life-ending drugs and devices.

The plaintiff families faced more debilitating fines for offering their employees health insurance that covers everything-but the 4 life-ending drugs and devices they objected to than if they offered no health insurance at all. That point bears repeating: under Obamacare’s “HHS mandate,” a family-run business would be punished to a greater extent if it provides its employees with health insurance that covers everything except even just the so-called “morning after pill” than if it drops coverage for its employees entirely.

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Upholding the religious liberty of the Green and Hahn families, the Court noted that if the plaintiffs continued to offer life-affirming healthcare they would be severely punished. “If they insist on providing insurance coverage in accordance with their religious beliefs, the mandate clearly imposes a substantial burden on those beliefs.”

Dropping insurance altogether for a less-severe fine was not a “choice.” The Court recognized that “the Hahns and the Greens and their companies have religious reasons for providing health insurance to their employees.”

The radical view advanced by the Obama Administration could eliminate other choices for pro-life Americans. The Court pointed to the logical end that pro-life Americans could be “effectively exclude[d]…from full participation in the economic life of the nation.”  The decision expounded on a point conceded by the Obama Administration’s attorney during oral arguments: under the Administration’s theory of the case, the government could “require all employers to provide coverage for any medical procedure allowed by law in the jurisdiction in question—for instance, third-trimester abortions or assisted suicide.”

Fortunately, in both McCullen and the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases “choice” won.