Hobby Lobby Decision is Also a Mandate

On June 28, 1776, the first draft of our nation’s Declaration of Independence was introduced to the general session of the Second Continental Congress.  The 28th was a Friday, and so the founding fathers tabled the draft until the following Monday, July 1st, when they took it up again for debate.  A resolution for independence was approved on July 2nd and, on July 4th, the text of the Declaration of Independence was approved.

Sunday, June 30, 1776, was an important day in our nation’s history.  On that day, the Founding Fathers would have been in Philadelphia’s churches, praying for the will of God in the founding of our nation.  They might have prayed for us, the beneficiaries of their courage.  They might have prayed for the prosperity, the morality, and the liberty of our nation.  They might have remembered the Continental Day of Prayer, which Congress had declared on March 16, 1776, on which they prayed that, “this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty.”

This year, on June 30th—that day of prayer and contemplation which might have spurred the inception of our liberty—the United States Supreme Court restored some portion of the liberty, particularly religious liberty, on which our nation was founded.  The Hobby Lobby decision is an affirmation that believers have a place in the public square—that all of us should be free to conduct our business without compromising our basic moral beliefs.  In addition, Wheaton College, a small evangelical college, received last-minute relief from the Supreme Court, protecting the College’s right to carry out its religious mission, free from crippling IRS fines.

The victory is not unqualified and the fight for our religious liberty is not complete.  Churches, hospitals, and universities are still threatened by the federal HHS contraceptive mandate.  And the outcome of that fight is not yet clear.  But we have reason to be optimistic.  And we should rejoice that the Court affirmed, as Professor Robert George of Princeton University wrote last week, that “our religious lives cannot be restricted to what we do in our homes before meals or on our knees at bedtime, or to our prayers and liturgies in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Religious faith motivates, or can motivate, our convictions and actions in the exercise of our rights and responsibilities as citizens, in our philanthropic and charitable activities, and in the conduct of our businesses and professions.”

The backlash against the Hobby Lobby decision has been extraordinary. Planned Parenthood and its allies have falsely painted the decision as an offense to women and the right to self-determination, actualized in access to free contraception.  The decision has been painted, laughably, as a move towards imposing a kind of American theocracy, or as a precedent to the total annihilation of the rule of law. The Huffington Post went so far as to suggest that the decision “may now be resurrecting concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen, or at least between being a good Catholic and an impartial judge.”

In its aftermath, the Hobby Lobby decision has exposed the bald aggression of secularists, whose loyalties lie more closely with unfettered sexual libertinism than with respect for fundamental rights of conscience, of religion, or of personal dignity.  In short, the Hobby Lobby decision has exposed the secular tendency towards atheocracy—the systematic hostility and marginalization of religious believers who engage in American public life, a kind of practical atheism established as a norm.

Hobby Lobby is a victory for human dignity.  But it is also a mandate.  What’s clear, in the aftermath of the decision, is how toxic our culture has become to faith in public life.

The hostility we face won’t be overcome by the assertion of our rights in courts of law.  That fight is important.  But litigation can only fight the symptoms of our broader problems.  Religious liberty will be threatened in our nation as long as secularism is the prevailing cultural leitmotif.

Hobby Lobby is a mandate for evangelization.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis observed that “the immense importance of a culture marked by faith cannot be overlooked; before the onslaught of contemporary secularism an evangelized culture, for all its limits, has many more resources than the mere sum total of believers. An evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society, and possesses a particular wisdom which ought to be gratefully acknowledged.”

An evangelized culture, the Holy Father says, will be a just culture.  Justice is the fruit of faith.

Around the world, religious believers face today particular kinds of injustice.  The European Court of Human Rights declared this week that nations have broad authority to restrict religious tradition and expression in favor of social cohesion. In Egypt, a Christian was sentenced to prison this week for proclaiming Christ on the Internet.  Today, right now, Christians in Iraq and Syria are being exiled, beaten, and killed. We sorely need evangelized and just cultures.

Our religious liberty is not an end in itself. Instead, religious liberty is the freedom for something real—the freedom to “make disciples of all nations”—to spread the Gospel, and its fruits, joyfully.  If we want to protect our religious liberty, the very best thing we can do is to use it—to transform culture by transforming hearts for Jesus Christ.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared July 10, 2014 on the Diocese of Lincoln website. The image above titled “St. John the Baptist Rebuking Herod” was painted by Giovanni Fattori.

Bishop James D. Conley, STL


Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL, is the bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska. Before his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI to the see of Lincoln in September 2012, he served as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver under Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. He earned his Master's of Divinity from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1985 and a licentiate in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana, part of the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

  • Don

    I’ve often been critical on this site (and in other forums) of how our bishops so often sit quietly on the sidelines and watch the secularists attack the truly faithful. But as a Catholic living in Lincoln, and a volunteer attorney who assisted in the challenge to the HHS mandate, I am proud of Bishop Conley’s stance. We need more like him! Thanks Bishop!

  • Lochain

    I’m afraid that my quarrel with the bishops is not that they sit quietly on the sidelines and watch the faithful carrying on the fight against evil in this world; I could understand that they are simply being cowardly, keeping their heads down and trying to fit in and I’ve often felt that temptation and at times have given in but the experience I have had is far more sinister: they employ known pro-abortionists and those in an openly homosexual relationship offering on occasion to be present at celebrations in church of such relationships, they ignore those who in past times would have been acknowledged as the bedrock of a parish -those with large families, those who keep to the traditional forms of worship – they openly encourage dissent especially with regard to sexual morality and discourage any, what they term as, ‘obsession’ with God. I would despair were it not for the likes of Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Conley. Often, what the bishops as a whole fail to do is offer leadership, I sometimes wonder whether they have any real faith, whether they believe in the power of prayer, whether they believe in the Real presence; certainly the term, and perhaps the concept, of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass seems to have faded away. I have recently read a slim book with the title, ‘It is the Lord’ by Bishop Schneider of Kazakhstan which reveals to us in the West how casually blasphemous has our reception of the Blessed Sacrament become. Constant and fervent prayer and the Mass is needed if the present catastrophic situation in the Western Church is not to spread worldwide.

    • Vinnie

      “heroism is not for the average Christian.” From the essay, “Kasper vs. Kasper” in Crisis Magazine.

  • publiusnj

    When a USSC decision goes the way the liberals want, they see it as the inevitable result of human progress. When it goes against the liberals, they see it as the result of a cabal among what they are quick to call the “old white men” (even if liberals have to suffer in silence when Harry Reid stereotypes Clarence Justice Thomas as one of those old white men). In a sense they are right: USSC decisions are not Olympian pronouncements; they are political vessels reflecting shifting coalitions in a very political body. The politicians in the White House and the Senate wouldn’t have it any other way.

    We make a mistake if we give too much deference to anything a judge writes. Should we have some measure of respect for “the rule of law”? Of course, because the alternative is anarchy and the political process is certainly superior to that. However, that respect should not be built on any continuing belief that the political and common law processes are grinding their way to a more perfect union.

    So, we need to continue to push for our Catholic agenda in the full knowledge that it will get no respect based on the First Amendment. The First Amendment is a sometime thing: used when useful and discarded when it gets in the way. We instead need to show where the current secularist agenda has led us and is leading us.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      If one looks back to an earlier period, in Jones v Opelika [319 US 584 (1942)] one finds Roberts J complaining that, in some six years, the court had fourteen times reversed one or more of its earlier decisions, many of them recent. He observed that such decisions tended “to bring adjudications of this tribunal into the same class as a restricted railroad ticket, good for this day and train only. I have no assurance, in view of current decisions, that the opinion announced today may not shortly be repudiated and overruled by justices who deem they have new light on the subject.”

      As one particularly egregious example, a case, Minersville School District v Gobitis [310 US 586 (1940)] that was decided by a majority of eight to one, was overruled three years later in West Virginia School Board of Education v Barnette [319 US 624 (1943)] by a majority of six to three. Of the six, three of the Justices (Black, Douglas & Murphy JJ) had changed their minds, two (Jackson & Ritledge JJ) were new appointments and one was the former lone dissident (Stone CJ, formerly Stone J)

      Surely, the highest court having once decided what the law is, it should be for the legislator to say what it ought to be.

  • thebigdog

    It’s only “settled law” when the liberals agree with it… everything else is in the process of evolving.

    • DE-173

      evolving or “controversial”.

      • thebigdog

        The “evolving” is only from the subjective perspective of the left. In reality, they are so entrenched in licentiousness that they are oblivious to the fact that they are actually celebrating concupiscence and entropy.

        • DE-173

          Agreed. I was just adding another of their favorite adjectives of disnissal.

  • bedlamguy

    In reality “winning” the Hon Lob decision was a small , partial victory. A” loss” would have been a tremendous defeat.

  • Fred

    Thank you Bishop Conley. I know it’s easy to criticize (other posts) and forget that we are all human despite our titles and struggle with how best to fullfil this mission Christ has given us all. When under attack it’s human nature for most to seek safe haven, myself included, whether it’s avoiding controversial subjects in homilies or how we approach others in sharing Christ. We even stumble occasionally and don’t always act Godly too. I’ll admit to being a coward in the past, but I no longer feel that way. My struggles now are figuring out how best to, preparing myself, and trusting in God.

  • bonaventure

    It is tragic that we need a SCOTUS decision in favor of Religious Freedom.
    What if the court had gone the other way?

  • So you support a business owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses not paying for insurance coverage that would allow for life-saving blood transfusions, because they believe that blood transfusions are against God’s will?

    This highlights the problem with employers paying for insurance and giving the employers the right to pick and choose which services are covered.

    All of this ensures that we will someday have a fully-government-owned health care system, which will provide all services to all people. Then, people of faith can make their own choices regarding the type of healthcare services they receive, in private, with their physicians.

    • Guest

      Why compare unequal items? Blood transfusions are licit and treat pathology. Taking medication only to suppress a normal system simply for pleasure is not medical treatment.

      • The issue is not being forced to pay for what is seen as complete health care insurance based upon the employer’s “religious beliefs,” and in that regard, they are equal items.

        And ever so predictably, there is no concern about unmarried men getting Viagra via these same plans, meaning it is fine for men to fornicate in the eyes of these religious employers.

        • Guest

          Viagara treats pathology. What do steroids suppressing normal fertility have in common? Why do I have to pay for your hedonism? How is that medical care?

          • verdulo1

            I think you need a better understanding of “normal” fertility. It only takes two children per couple for the human race to continue. Without any limits on fertility, the average woman will have at least 8 children. The result of this would be 4 times as many people every generation. Two couples produce 16 children. The children grow up and produce 64 grandchildren. The grandchildren produce 256 great-children. It is easy to see that this cannot continue much longer without producing a mass of humanity larger than the planet. Obviously, that is physically impossible.

            In “the old days”, we didn’t need to limit our numbers because nature did it for us. Lots of people (especially babies) died from infection or smallpox or malaria or many other diseases that are now preventable. Since nature doesn’t limit our numbers any more, we need to do the limiting ourselves. Birth control provides us with a humane way of doing that. Couples who sensibly want to limit their family size are hardly being hedonistic. More likely, they are acting out of a concern for the welfare of the children they have.

            • Guest

              Seriously? Firstly, suppressing a normal bodily function is not healthcare. The ends never justify the means. There are other ways to limit pregnancy if that is your desire.

              Your silly argument about population control is just that silly. The birthrates in the West are less than the death rates. We are not replacing ourselves in sufficient numbers.

              No, it is not medical care to frustrate a normal condition. Fertility is not pathology.

    • Augustus

      If a business owned by a Jehovah’s Witness wants to offer limited health insurance options to employees, it has a perfect right to do so. And if you don’t like it, you can work for someone else. Businesses gain tax breaks if they provide insurance but there is not RIGHT to health insurance from your employer. It is a benefit that you can take or leave. No one is stopping you from buying your own customized health insurance plan. Why don’t you grow up and take some responsibility for your own life and stop criticizing employers from following their consciences? Socializing medicine will spread corruption and inefficiency and rationing across the entire system leading to diminished health outcomes. Health savings accounts are the alternative to employer provided or government run healthcare. To call for government control of healthcare in the midst of the VA scandal is quite incredible.

  • Doug

    The US founding fathers were all atheists/humanists, Paine, Washington, Jefferson Franklin etc. They wrote about the separation of church & state which the Hobby Lobby clearly violates as well as women’s rights!!!

    • Guest

      Which rights?