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BOWMAN: Defending religious freedom from Obamacare

The abortion mandate narrows the exercise of faith to the right to worship

- - Sunday, December 1, 2013

Americans already infuriated with what they can't keep under Obamacare will soon be getting another government message: "Your Constitution is canceled." Even if you like your Constitution.

The Supreme Court agreed last week to hear a challenge to Obamacare's requirement that citizens pay for other people's early-abortion drugs, filed by a Mennonite Christian family's wood-cabinet company and the Hobby Lobby craft-store chain. The Obama administration insists that religious freedom simply doesn't belong to families if they try to earn a living in business.

Imagine if we were to sit down with the Pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving table. It might surprise them to learn that their future government doesn't think they're entitled to religious freedom in their daily toil. Today, in the view of our government, anyway, freedom means keeping your faith — as long as you keep it to yourself.

This warped view of religious freedom was summed up recently by the federal appeals court in Chicago. It rejected the Obama administration's "compartmentalized" view of religious freedom, as if it exists "in the home and the house of worship but not beyond." A federal district judge in Pittsburgh was likewise bewildered by the government's attempt to "restrict the right to the free exercise of religion as set forth in the First Amendment to a right to worship only."

Obamacare's few remaining defenders now claim that families in business are the real villains, not the Obama administration as it tries to amputate religious freedom from daily life. According to their view, unless we take religious freedom from families in business, "corporate personhood" would be expanded. Obamacare's apologists sneer that "corporations don't go to heaven."

This "corporate personhood" bogeyman is a diversion. Families are the ones who must fund abortion drugs in their business or else Obamacare's Internal Revenue Service enforcers will destroy their livelihoods. Often these families are the ones whose parents and grandparents founded their family businesses in their garages, and who follow God's command to treat their customers and employees with fairness. Families are the ones being coerced by Obamacare if they dare try to earn a living in the United States.

Hyperventilation over "corporate personhood" also reveals the radical abortion agenda of Obamacare's supporters. Media giants like The New York Times, Slate and others were apoplectic recently when the Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law that requires minimal safety precautions for women. That case was brought on behalf of for-profit abortion corporations, raising constitutional "rights" that Roe v. Wade called "private" and "intimate."

In other words, for-profit abortion corporations can assert constitutional "rights" to abortion and contraception so intimate the Constitution doesn't even mention them. The New York Times itself is a for-profit corporation exercising constitutional rights. Why don't families earning a living as job creators have a right to the free exercise of religion explicitly guaranteed to all Americans in the First Amendment and by the Clinton-era Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

The last time the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to cut religion from the First Amendment it lost 9-0 in Hosanna Tabor. Time and again, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations, such as churches and universities, can exercise religion. Businesses, such as Jewish merchants objecting to Sunday-closing laws and Amish farmers objecting to certain taxes, can exercise religion, and people, such as pacifists or Sabbath observers who have trouble finding employment, seeking money — including government money — can exercise religion.

All Americans have religious freedom, whether doing business, worshipping, serving or pursuing health care. The Supreme Court should affirm the full breadth of religious freedom in daily life, from the lives of those first settlers of this country down through today.

Matthew S. Bowman is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the Hahn family in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, one of the abortion-mandate cases granted review by the U.S. Supreme Court.