Are Corporations People Too?: Hobby Lobby and Religious Liberty

Supreme_Court_US_2010Who would have ever imagined that a craft store chain owned by a Christian family would be at the center of a Supreme Court case about sexuality, abortifacient drugs, the role of corporations, and religious liberty? Oral arguments were heard today in the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The central point of the case is whether or not the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstores, has the right to exercise their religious freedom in opting out of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employer-provided health plans to offer emergency birth control drugs at no charge to their employees. The Greens have objected on religious grounds that such emergency birth control options are tantamount to abortion and that providing abortion-inducing drugs is a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs.

Trying to predict what the Supreme Court will decide is an exercise in futility, so I will not go down that road. However, I do want to highlight a few interesting notes from today’s oral arguments.

The first is not all that surprising (and possibly not all that interesting)—the high court appears divided. From the best one can tell from the questioning, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor apparently siding with the government and Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito leaning towards Hobby Lobby. This leaves Justice Anthony Kennedy as the deciding vote in an otherwise divided Court. This is familiar territory for the current version of the Supreme Court.

The second item of note is that the role of a corporation seems to be a big question. Some of the liberal justices seemed to imply that corporations should simply be able to pick up the tab for the healthcare expenses or fees for not providing healthcare with no impact on the business or the economy. They did not seem to take into account that these healthcare costs have to be paid by someone and that the costs would most likely be passed along to the customer. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor also pressed Paul Clement, the attorney arguing for Hobby Lobby, about whether corporations could opt out of other healthcare options for their employees. Lyle Denniston reports that they “suggested that if corporations gain an exemption from having to provide birth-control services for their female employees, then the next complaint would be about vaccinations, blood transfusions, and a whole host of other medical and non-medical services that a company or its owners might find religiously objectionable.”

On the other hand, Justice Alito pushed back against Solicitor General Donald Verrilli regarding the purpose of corporations. He asked the Solicitor General if the only purpose of corporations was to “maximize profits.” If the object is only to maximize profits, then corporations would have no other rights. However, if corporations serve other purposes, then they might have the right to protection under the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.

The third item is the most interesting development in my opinion. It relates to the rights of a corporation to make a claim regarding discrimination. The government argued that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby have no standing to file a claim against the government based on religious discrimination. On the surface this seems to make sense because corporations are not churches, nor are they individuals with religious beliefs. However, the government has already held that corporations can file claims based on racial discrimination. In the same sense, corporations are not individuals of a particular race or ethnicity. The racial discrimination claims have typically been based on the race and ethnicity of the owners.

Applying the same standard to the religious freedom aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, it would appear that the Green family’s deeply held religious beliefs (and clear articulation of those beliefs in company documents) would provide the corporation with the same protections as those guaranteed to them as individuals. This argument could prove to be central in the upcoming decision of the Court.

Once again, we will be left to wait for months until hearing the decision of the Supreme Court that will most likely come in June. Until then, it is futile to speculate what the Court will decide. However, there is one thing that we can do. We can pray for the justices of the Supreme Court that God would grant them wisdom in judging these matters. We should pray for godly wisdom that they would rule according to God’s will. We should pray that they would value life in the way that God values life—seeing those in the womb as no different than a full-grown adult (Psalm 139:13–16).

I urge you to join me in prayer for John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The future of religious liberty in the United States is in their hands.
Lyle Denniston, “Argument recap: One hearing, two dramas,” SCOTUSblog, March 25, 2014.

Derrick Morgan, Hans von Spakovsky, and Elizabeth Slattery, “How the Supreme Court Justices Reacted to Today’s Hobby Lobby Arguments,” The Foundry, March 25, 2014.

Ilya Shapiro, “Is There No Alternative to Forcing People to Violate Their Religious Beliefs?” Cato Institute, March 25, 2014.

Radical Reformation and Religious Liberty

Today I had the privilege of speaking in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for our annual Radical Reformation Day chapel. Dr. Patterson had asked me to speak on the issue of religious liberty. You can watch or listen to the entire message here, but I also want to provide you with some highlights.

Historically, the Anabaptists fought for religious liberty all the way to the point of death. They believed that the church and state should not be wed in a way that the state enforces doctrinal purity by punishing those who believe or promote false doctrine. The Anabaptists believed that the state’s role was limited to protecting peace and order in society. Since the state could not coerce beliefs, then the Anabaptists also believed that conversion cam on the basis of persuasion through the Word of God rather than at the point of the sword. Finally, the Anabaptists taught the free exercise of religion in that heathens and heretics were to be allowed to continue in their unbelief. No one had the right to coerce them to change.

There is much more to discuss, but this gives you the historical highlights. I hope you enjoy the message as much as I enjoyed preparing and delivering it.

Radical Reformation and Religious Liberty

Government, Religious Liberty, and Women’s Health

There is an excellent article posted today on Public Discourse by Helen Alvare addressing the issues of government, religious liberty, and women’s health. Here are some of the highlights.

On the issue of the administration’s campaign targeting women:

The result is an administration—led by men, but fronted by women—blatantly in favor of the view that to be “for women” (and to be super cool), you should support casual sex and the free contraception that facilitates it. The Obama campaign’s real message about the HHS mandate translates as follows: If you object to coercing religious institutions into sponsoring free contraception, you are no friend to women.

On the threat to religious liberty:

Any American citizen or institution that visibly opposes this powerful alliance might realistically worry about its future. This is new for Christians in America. In decades past, only the most extremist abortion interest groups—e.g., Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League—visibly denounced the beliefs and practices of Christian churches regarding human sexuality, marriage, and family. But today, these groups command the prime-time podium at the Democratic National Convention, and count the president of the United States as their closest political ally.

On the challenge for Christians:

Instead, for the good of women and the good of society, Christians must engage in a hard conversation: what does women’s freedom truly include? Christian citizens, Catholics in particular, must explain why their witness on contraception contributes to, and doesn’t derogate, women’s long-term flourishing. These conversations must certainly deal with the world as it is—culturally, politically—but can never forget to speak of the world as it ought to be, the world parents hope to leave to their daughters and sons.

Christian churches need to be frank about what they are proposing concerning sex, parenting, and marriage. They shouldn’t hide the ball; that rightly infuriates people. And they should especially remember those people who often slip through the cracks, who are forgotten or ignored by the alliance of Planned Parenthood and the federal government: our poorest and least educated fellow citizens who suffer the most from the loss of a healthy marriage culture.

I’d like to encourage you to read the entire article. It appears that it will also include two more follow-up pieces in the days to come. You can find the article here.


Helen Alvare, “Planned Parenthood and the Government v. Religious Liberty and Women’s Wellbeing,” Public Discourse, December 4, 2012.

Statement on Release of Iranian Pastor

The Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (Southern Baptist Convention) has released a statement on the release of Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani was imprisoned in October 2009 for apostasy and proselytism. Essentially, he is a Christian who was sharing his faith, which is illegal in Iran. The statement below addresses the issue of religious freedom and calls on the oppressive Iranian regime to honor Pastor Nadarkhani’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

The text of the statement follows:

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was imprisoned by the Iranian authorities and charged with apostasy and proselytism on October 12, 2009. Over a period of nearly three years, he endured torture and was under the constant threat of death. His wife was imprisoned and his children threatened. This was all in an effort to force him to recant his Christian faith.

On September 8, 2012, the charges of apostasy were withdrawn and Pastor Nadarkhani was convicted of evangelizing Muslims and sentenced to three years in prison. He was then released from prison since he had already been held two years and 11 months.

We rejoice with Pastor Nadarkhani and his family over his release. Nevertheless, we are outraged that Iran has subjected him to such barbaric treatment. Iran’s behavior during this entire period violated one of the most basic of human rights—the freedom of conscience.

This right is granted to humanity by God. It is also affirmed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iran was an original signatory: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

In protest of Iran’s inhumane treatment of Pastor Nadarkhani and countless other prisoners of conscience in Iran and around the world, we reaffirm and celebrate the freedom of conscience entrusted to humanity by God the sovereign Creator, and we condemn specifically the horrific behavior of Iran toward its citizens who choose a faith other than Islam.

We call for the following:

  • that the Iranian authorities publicly apologize to Pastor Nadarkhani for their flagrant abuse of his God-given right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and for the humiliation, loss of honor, pain, suffering, and loss of livelihood to which he and his family were subjected for nearly three years,
  • that every nation honor the God-given freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and release every prisoner whose only offense relates to these.

We further commit ourselves to pray and work for the release of every prisoner of conscience and to do all that we can to promote and protect freedom of conscience here and around the world.

Finally, in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani we invite all people to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior for the complete and everlasting forgiveness of their sin and eternal peace with God.

I am honored to be one of the Research Fellows of the ERLC who helped to craft this statement. Much of the credit should go to Dr. Barrett Duke for his initial work in drafting the document. You can join me and others who have already signed this document by clicking here and adding your name.

Marriage, Family, and the Chicken Sandwich

“Eat More Chicken.” That’s what former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee wants you to do today. Gov. Huckabee has declared August 1 to be “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in response to the negative firestorm surrounding Dan Cathy’s recent declaration of support for the biblical model of marriage. Cathy is the president and chief operating officer of the Atlanta-based restaurant chain.

Should we support Chick-fil-A today? Should we affirm Mr. Cathy’s statements? Does Mr. Cathy have the right to say such things? The answers to these questions are yes, yes, and yes, but let’s take a look at why.

Biblically, we need to be reminded to stand together with fellow believers as they try to do the right thing. In Hebrews 10:24, we read, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” The Cathy family has worked long and hard to build a business on principles derived from the Bible. They keep their doors closed on Sundays so their employees can spend the day in worship. They train their staff to treat everyone with respect and kindness. They have even created foundations to fund college scholarships and other educational opportunities for employees. They are working diligently to do good—investing in their people and their communities. In an age where business is marked with greed and fraud, Chick-fil-A is running things the right way.

In addition, fellow believers should stand for what Dan Cathy has affirmed—a biblical understanding of marriage. In an interview with Allan Blume of the Biblical Recorder, Cathy said, “We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

Cathy’s statement is much broader than the media has reported. Certainly, his words exclude a vision of marriage beyond heterosexual union. However, he more specifically affirms marriage between one man and one woman for a lifetime. His concern is not simply with same-sex marriage. His statement expresses concern for rampant divorce in our culture, cohabitation before marriage, and the fringe elements of polygamous and polyamorous relationships that are becoming more mainstream.

Marriage as the Bible describes it is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman that lasts until death. Genesis 2:24 declares, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” This relationship is then a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31–32). I applaud Mr. Cathy for supporting this vision of marriage.

Socially, not only should we affirm Mr. Cathy’s words, but we should support his work that in turn strengthens marriages. The company uses its profits to support a number of causes, one of which is its own WinShape Foundation. One of the focal points of the foundation is helping people prepare for, strengthen, and save their marriages. In our society today, over 60% of marriages are preceded by cohabitation; more than a third of all American adults experience at least one divorce; and 34% of all children under 18 live in households without two married parents. These numbers are staggering. Marriage is on the decline, and we need to do all we can to support it. When a company like Chick-fil-A and the Cathy family have made it possible for us to be a part of preserving marriage in our society, we need to vote with our mouths and our money.

Politically, we need to stand up for Mr. Cathy’s right to speak his opinion boldly and without threat of retaliation by the government. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. . . .” Threats of retaliation by the city governments of Boston and Chicago constitute a violation of Mr. Cathy’s first amendment rights. Mr. Cathy has clearly stated that his position is based upon his religious beliefs. Therefore, blocking a company’s ability to operate in a city for the religious beliefs of its president amounts to the prohibition of his free exercise of religion. If that were not enough, Mr. Cathy has a first amendment right to speak his opinion under the protection of freedom of speech. Governments cannot discriminate against him or his company simply because he chose to speak. In fact, Mayor Menino of Boston and Mayor Emanuel of Chicago have both backtracked on their threats to ban the restaurant after facing the reality that such actions would be unconstitutional.

So what should Christians do? When we find businesses that promote biblical values, frequent them. Tell the company that you support the stands they take. Use your words and your money to demonstrate support. What about Chick-fil-A today? I say, go to Chick-fil-A. Buy a meal. Drink some lemonade. Eat more chicken.

*Originally posted at