The Supreme Court yesterday delivered an important but substantially mitigated victory to advocates of individual rights by throwing out the ObamaCare requirement that business owners pay for health insurance when doing so violates their religious convictions. At issue in the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, was whether the federal government could force businesses to provide health insurance that covers forms of birth control that may act as an abortifacient. The Court decided 5–4 in favor of Hobby Lobby.
Some of the good is that the Court not only explicitly defended “religious liberty,” it did so explicitly on behalf of for-profit business owners:
When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people [associated with a corporation]. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.
The decision, along with important aspects of the reasoning behind it, deserves high praise. However, the reasoning behind the decision does not actually uphold the principle of individual rights and the propriety of freedom of conscience. The problems on these counts include the following:
- Rather than reject the ObamaCare mandate based on the clear language of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise” of religion, the Court based its decision on the language of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Court’s decision thus implies that if, in the future, Congress decides that it no longer wants to protect religious freedom, it can simply alter the statutes.
- The Court based its decision on its finding that the ObamaCare mandate was not “the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” But the notion that “governmental interests” properly can trump individual rights is alien to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution, and it is antithetical to the principle of individual rights.
- By creating an exception to the mandate on grounds of religious liberty rather than on the grounds of the propriety of freedom of conscience, the Court failed to protect the rights of those who may not want to offer the type of insurance in question for rational reasons—such as that insuring such things as birth control is economically senseless or that individuals and businesses have a reason-based right to decide for themselves how they will or will not spend their money. People of reason, no less than people of faith, have a moral right to run their businesses as they see fit and to contract freely with others. The Court effectively ruled that those who base their decisions on faith—that is, on acceptance of ideas in support of which there is no evidence—may decide what insurance to offer, but that those who base their decisions on reason and evidence may not. This is the worst, most fundamentally flawed aspect of the decision.
Despite such significant problems, though, the Court’s ruling is a much-needed strike against government-controlled health care and for individual rights. On balance, given the expansion of illegitimate government programs in recent decades, this is a decision to celebrate.