The long-awaited verdict from the Supreme Court regarding Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the Health and Human Services mandate to provide emergency contraceptives is in. The Court sided with the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, who claimed that because four of the required contraceptives are abortion-inducing drugs, paying for them would cause them to compromise their religious convictions.
Religious people who want to engage in business according to their most cherished values and principles breathed a sigh of relief at the ruling. But let’s remember that, while Christian business owners saw a favorable ruling from the Court, public opinion on this case hasn’t followed suit. As of last weekend:
A majority of Americans oppose letting employers, based on their religious views, exclude certain contraceptives from workers’ insurance coverage… The poll asked whether employers should be able to choose what forms of contraceptives their health plans provide based on their religious beliefs. Of those responding, 53 percent disagreed and 35 percent agreed. Of those surveyed, 12 percent said they did not know.
Some of the opposition toward Hobby Lobby could be a result of misinformation that has spread throughout the media. The phrase “Obamacare’s Contraceptive Mandate” is misleading. Many reporters have covered this issue as if religious employers are banning contraceptive usage among their employees, or as if working for Hobby Lobby means you relinquish your right to birth control.
The “ban” terminology isn’t accurate. Hobby Lobby’s issue was never with contraception in general, but four kinds of “contraception” that can induce early abortions. Furthermore, the owners weren’t seeking to ban abortifacient drugs among their employees, but to opt out from subsidizing them. Facing exorbitant fines from the government for their objection to paying for these drugs, the owners argued they were being penalized for leading their business according to conscience, the same conscience that leads Hobby Lobby to close on Sundays, to pay their workers a wage much higher than would be expected for their work, and to provide health coverage in the first place.
Even so, when informed people look at this case, many still come to the conclusion that business owners must provide emergency contraceptives, even when the purchase goes against their religious convictions. You may be thrilled at the Hobby Lobby verdict, but there’s a good chance your neighbor isn’t. In fact, a growing number of Americans don’t see “religious liberty” as important.
Last year, a record number of Americans (1 in 3) said the first amendment goes too far in the freedom it promises. Just as a reminder, that amendment ensures not only religious liberty but also free speech. And here’s a foreboding statistic:
Most likely to believe the First Amendment goes too far are Americans under 30 years old, African-Americans, and Latinos.
So, how do we navigate this shifting landscape of views on morality, freedom, and religiosity?
We should start by recognizing that the narrow majority of the Supreme Court doesn’t reflect the majority of our population. The Sexual Revolution has introduced assumptions and “givens” into our thought processes today, making religious liberty objections seem increasingly odd or fanciful.
Consider this. A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.
The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.
As evangelicals, we can’t rely on the courts; we have to be in conversations. Not the kind of conversation where we debate the merits of a particular case or where we seek to back opponents into a corner, but the kind of gentle persuasion that rises from a joyful exuberance in one’s faith and a hopeful confidence for the future.
Most of all, our words should be backed up by lives of happy holiness and genuine wholeness, where love is not something we talk about, but something we display. Our friends and neighbors may still disagree with us, but let’s at least give them examples of what authentic life in God’s kingdom looks like. Then, whenever we refuse to bow the knee, perhaps they’ll see our defiance toward Caesar is really devotion to King Jesus.