Expert’s take: Hobby Lobby case
The Supreme Court ruled last week in favor of Hobby Lobby, declaring that the government (specifically, the HHS mandate) cannot force employers who have a conscientious objection to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.
Dana Cody, President, Executive Director, and attorney for Life Legal Defense Foundation, an organization which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, weighs in on what the ruling means for the pro-life effort:
What does this ruling mean for the pro-life movement? What are future repercussions, and what’s your organization’s reaction?
I’m happy with the decision. I think the effects have already shown themselves to some degree where there have been a couple of decisions in courts of appeal.
I think overall, though, what’s disappointing about the decision is, our culture has forgotten to ask themselves the question, ‘What is the proper role of government? Do we really want the government involved in our private decisions?’ Isn’t that allegedly what this whole abortion debate is about? The right to privacy? And so, when you have the government involved in your healthcare, and they’re trying to force employers to provide services that they have religious objections to, then I think the government has gone too far, and it goes back to what I originally said: What is the proper role of government? I don’t think the proper role of government is to take care of me. I can take care of myself.
Are there other cases similar to this that will be coming to the courts soon that your organization is working on?
What we do in large part has to do with free speech and free expression. So, for example, we were involved in the McCullen decision that came down last week, again, with a friend of the court brief, because one of our clients actually spent time in jail for standing on a public sidewalk holding a sign that said, ‘Let us help,’ because he allegedly violated an ordinance that required him to get permission first. That conviction was overturned on appeal, and the federal court, in a separate action where we were challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, the court remanded it, and said to federal court: Law enforcement needs to apply this equally, both to people who are pro-life, and to people who are abortion proponents. Since that time, we haven’t have any problem at that particular clinic, but we will continue to stand up for free exercise rights and if it’s a case that lends itself to appeal, we will definitely appeal.
Again, with McCullen, the least restrictive means analysis was great, but we don’t feel like they’re going far enough. We have First Amendment rights, and what is the compelling state interest in limiting speech or requiring somebody to provide contraceptives when they have religious objections? It doesn’t make sense.
We have First Amendment freedoms with respect to religious liberty. Why did we even need the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to begin with? The reason we needed it is, our religious freedom was being limited. The First Amendment wasn’t enough. The First Amendment was enacted to protect citizens of the United States. When the First Amendment is no longer enough, that signals to me that the court is not using the First Amendment to protect us; the court is using the First Amendment to limit our freedoms, and so, in my opinion, if the court was properly interpreting the law and the Constitution, there would have been no need for RFRA.
So now, yes, it’s great that the court is saying with the Hobby Lobby case that the HHS mandate is restricting people’s religious liberty, but it doesn’t go far enough, because it hasn’t gotten us back to where we should be with the First Amendment.
What specifically has your organization done to influence these cases, and what can others who are trying to do similar work learn from you?
Citizens who are pro-life need to continue to speak out. Both with respect to their religious liberty and free speech. They need to keep getting the life-affirming message out there. The more people who speak out, the better. Obviously there is strength in numbers, and so, our mission is to defend innocent and helpless human beings, particularly the unborn, and we do that by representing their advocates.
What we do to get the word out is to continue to network, to have events to educate people so they’re aware that we’re out there, and they don’t have to be intimidated or limited because they feel like, ‘If I go to court, I’m not going to win anyway,’ or, ‘I can’t afford the price of a legal defense.’ That’s why Life Legal Defense exists. We’re there to provide a legal defense and to defend people’s rights pro-bono, because we know how expensive litigation can be. We don’t want simply the cost of litigation to end up limiting people’s religious liberties or free speech rights.