Does our Constitution guarantee the freedom of religion, or does it merely allow a more limited freedom to worship? The difference is profound. Worship is an event. Religion is a way of life.
Specifically, does the First Amendment guarantee believers of all faiths the freedom to practice their ethics, educate their children and operate family businesses based on their religious beliefs, moral convictions and freedom of conscience? Do Americans have the freedom to place our beliefs and ethics at the center of our business practices — or must we ignore them when we form a company?
These questions will be brought before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The outcome of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby will affect every American because any religion allowed to be practiced only inside a house of worship, and not in the day-to-day business of life, is a worthless faith.
Since I wrote “The Purpose Driven Life” 12 years ago, I have received more than 500,000 letters and e-mails from people trying to live in ways they believe honor God. For millions of Americans, faith is something you live by. It colors every decision and action, both at home and at work. It is personal, but it is not private.
David and Barbara Green are one example of a purpose-driven family leading a purpose-driven business. From the time the Greens started Hobby Lobby in their garage, building picture frames with their sons, they committed themselves and their company to one simple purpose: “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating our company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”
Hobby Lobby has grown into a multibillion-dollar business with more than 550 stores and nearly 16,000 full-time employees. David Green has written, “We had faith that we would succeed if we lived and worked according to God’s Word.”
The Greens live their religious values and ethics in every aspect of their business: by providing salaries and benefits far above average industry levels and by their commitment to helping employees maintain a healthy work-life balance, which includes closing on Sundays so workers have more time with their families.
Every year, Hobby Lobby gives a portion of its profits to charities, educational institutions, community ministries and churches around the world. My own congregation was a surprise beneficiary of the Greens’ generosity a few years ago, and that is how I first met this amazing family.
There is massive evidence that everything Hobby Lobby does is predicated on the Greens’ deep belief that they must honor God and obey his commands in their business. Every Christmas and Easter, Hobby Lobby takes out full-page ads to share the Greens’ faith in the communities where they have stores. Hobby Lobby is not a secular, publicly traded company. Rather, it is the personal, purpose-driven mission of one of the most devout families I’ve ever met.
Two years ago, the Greens’ commitment to practicing their religious convictions in their family business required that they object to just a few of the contraceptives the government requires providing to employees under the Affordable Care Act. They believe that a few specific drugs and devices have the potential to terminate life that has been conceived, and they view this as morally wrong based on Psalm 139:13-16, which says that God planned the purpose of every life before we were born. Represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, they went to court, and now the case has made it to the Supreme Court.
The administration argues that because Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporation, the company has no religious rights under the First Amendment. In fact, the government says that exempting Hobby Lobby from paying for drugs and devices to which the Greens object would amount to an imposition of the Greens’ faith on their employees.
The first people who came to America from Europe were devout pilgrims seeking the freedom to practice their faith. That’s why the first phrase of the first sentence of the First Amendment is about freedom of religion — preceding freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Why? Because if you don’t have the freedom to live and practice what you believe, the other freedoms are irrelevant. Religious liberty is America’s First Freedom.
In this case, the administration is insisting that those who form and operate a family business based on religious beliefs must disobey what they believe is God’s standard in order to obey the government’s program. The administration wants everyone to render unto Caesar not only what is Caesar’s but also what is God’s. If it wins, the first purpose on which the United States was founded would be severely damaged.
I used to own the letter that President Thomas Jefferson penned in February 1809 to the Methodist Episcopal Church of New London, Conn. (The Greens now own it because I wanted them to have it.) In that letter, Jefferson thundered, “No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.” My prayer is that the Supreme Court will agree with Jefferson.