Can You Operate Your Business According to Your Religious Beliefs?

On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a case that will set an important precedent regarding the exercise of religious freedom in our country. An opinion is expected to be rendered by the end of June.

By bringing his case to the Supreme Court, Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, is asking a question that has widespread ramifications: “Are [people in America that have a business] able to operate that business according to their deeply held religious beliefs?

If the Justices rule in Hobby Lobby’s favor, then the answer is yes. Organizations will be able to abide by their faith commitments and deny health coverage of abortive drugs, which cause the death of human embryos.

If the Justices rule in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services, then the answer is no. Business owners will be prevented from following their consciences and forced to follow the rules of ObamaCare instead.

This particular Supreme Court ruling will have an impact not only on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties—the two parties in this case—but also on other organizations (nonprofit and for-profit) that are Christ-centered and engage in faith-driven activities, including humanitarian relief, community development, and apologetics training.

For this reason, Summit Ministries has joined 23 other Christian ministries in filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court, opposing the contraception mandate under the health-care-reform law. All organizations in this brief (including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Compassion International, and The Navigators) have similar views on abortion-inducing drugs and would be adversely affected if compelled by the government to act in a way contrary to their stated faith commitments.

One of the main features of Summit’s teaching is that the Lordship of Christ applies to every area of life. The biblical worldview—the picture of reality that is set forth in the pages of scripture—requires that we act in accordance with truth in every place and at all times.

We believe that the law of the omnipresent God is itself omnipresent, requiring us to abide by its commands whether we are in the privacy of our homes or in the public square. There are no spatial constraints to the moral law, which is written on our hearts and to which we are all accountable. By forcing religious believers—whether individuals or business owners—to act in opposition to the moral law, the U.S. government is violating both the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The following are excerpts of the amicus brief joined by Summit:

“Religious liberty in this country reflects, among other things, the twin propositions that duty to God transcends duty to society and that true religious faith cannot be coerced. James Madison captured these propositions in his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments:

‘It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe … .’

“Because individuals possess an inalienable right and duty to worship God as they deem best, government can have no authority over religious exercise as such. Put differently, civil government is not the highest authority in human affairs.” (14-15)

“[T]he reasoning underlying the Secretary’s proposed blanket rule—that persons cannot at the same time engage in commercial activity and exercise religion—imposes a government-defined orthodoxy that improperly bifurcates the religious and the secular. Government officials have no constitutional competence or authority to navigate this line based on perceived religious content. And by recognizing religious exercise only at the margins of civil society, the Secretary’s position disregards the myriad ways in which religious beliefs relate to virtually all aspects of life.” (21-22)

“The Secretary also asserts, as if it were an axiom, that because for-profit corporations engage in commercial activities, they cannot at the same time exercise religion. This assertion entirely fails to comprehend the extent to which religion may direct the conduct of activities and the diversity of religious exercise.” (31)

Biblical Insights:

All of our gifts should be used for the glorification of God (1 Peter 4:10-11)

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

God has given us many spiritual gifts and a wide variety of other talents and passions as well. Whether we are skilled at management, woodworking, interior design, or advertising, we are called by God to excel in these tasks and to glorify God through them.

Steve Green owns Hobby Lobby, a retail store selling arts and crafts. He quite openly makes decisions in accordance with the biblical worldview, which motivates him to treat his employees and customers well while striving to meet high ethical standards in other areas of the business, too.

If the Supreme Court says that he cannot operate his company in a way that he believes is pleasing to God, the Court will set a dangerous precedent. In such a case, Steve Green will be forced to obey the word of man rather than the word of God or else face a stiff penalty that will significantly damage his company’s finances. The domain of Caesar will continue to encroach on the domain of Christ until the latter does not exceed beyond the confines of the church building. But our Christian faith informs every action we take—even how much we pay our employees and how much vacation time we give them, how we run business meetings, and how we relate to our customers. We are Christians both in church and out of church.

Wherever Christians work—at a doctor’s office, a manufacturing plant, or the office of a Fortune 500 company—they can be ministers in the workplace, testifying to God’s goodness, truth, and mercy. In fact, as Christians, who have personally encountered God’s grace, we can do nothing aside from share the source of our joy. For that is who we are. We are Christians, and we bear witness to Christ in all that we do. “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession,” Peter says. “As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Religious freedom enables us to stay true to our identity as Christ-followers and to maintain devotion to the law of God, which leads to holiness and fulfillment. Our identity as Christians trumps our identity as citizens of the United States. Our foremost dedication belongs to God, not to the government. The Supreme Court ought to recognize the importance of allowing United States citizens—private individuals, business owners, and corporations alike—to follow the higher, eternal law of God without the threat of temporal punishment. That which is eternal, everlasting, and unchanging is vastly superior to that which is temporal, fleeting, and transient. If we begin valuing the latter (human laws) over the former (eternal laws), then our entire culture will be turned upside down.