Let me also preface by saying that I’m not a lawyer, I’m just playing one here for the moment. If either politics or pretend-lawyers offend you, then feel free to hop out now, and I won’t be sad.
So, a couple of weeks ago, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga won their case against the U.S. government for being forced to comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that were against their religious beliefs. Basically, they didn’t want to have to pay for some (but not all) of the contraceptive treatments that were mandated in the law, because in their minds it was supporting abortion.
There was a lot of rejoicing in the evangelical community when the news came out, even though the victory was by a slim 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court. Not exactly overwhelming support, right?
Fast forward to this past week, and Senate Democrats tried to push a bill to the floor that would essentially re-legislate what the Supreme Court overturned. Thankfully, that bill did not make it very far, and mostly because it’s an election year and elected officials are playing things cautiously.
To me, this isn’t a question of whether or not it is right for an adult to purchase contraceptives. To me, it boils down to the legal similarities between Hobby Lobby and your local church and how the law views them.
You probably don’t know this, but I’ll bet that your local church is legally organized in your state as a non-profit corporation. In fact, where I work for the State of Indiana, I have access to the system where you can look up any business entity past or present in the state. Your church was probably legally incorporated by your pastor or one or more elders, which basically means that they filed paperwork with the state to be considered a nonprofit corporation.
Why is this important? Well, nonprofits aren’t taxed, and because they enjoy those tax-free benefits, they also pass the savings down to you in terms of your giving. You get a form from them every year of what your giving was so you can then (in turn) claim that amount as a deduction on your taxes. But, you probably already know that.
So, legally, there is really not much of a difference in the eyes of the government between a church and a private for-profit corporation besides the legal aspect that the church enjoys benefits of being organized as a nonprofit corporation. They are both organized corporations in the eyes of the law.
So, if Hobby Lobby doesn’t defend their religious liberties as a private corporation, who is going to defend the religious liberties of the church, also a private corporation?
Now, you might say it would never happen that churches would have their religious liberties infringed upon. No one would ever legislate that. OK, so you’re going to trust that lawmakers are going to get things perfect all the time and not make mistakes? That an employee of a church might make the same connection that I just did (an I’m a lay-attorney) and try to sue a church to cover an abortion under their medical plan?
Because the government would never reduce penalties for child molestation, right? Wrong. This past year, the Indiana General Assembly accidentally had conflicting language that they passed into law that ended up reducing the prison sentences for child molestation.
Or, how about this one? The State of California once passed a law for welfare reform that took away the Legislature’s Constitutional power to override a veto and gave the governor unchecked power over spending. It effectively was a modification to their state Constitution.
Or in the State of Virginia, a law passed to eliminate outdated blue laws inadvertently also removed the list of exemptions for businesses that were allowed to stay open on Sundays.
Granted, these are specific cases dealing with low-paid, part-time state legislators that also have full-time jobs on the side, generally aren’t lawyers, and generally can’t devote their full attention to technical issues like these. Our elected officials in Congress don’t have that same problem, right?
I mean, in between all the legislative work, speaking engagements, fundraising, committee hearings, caucus meetings, international travel, and everything else that they have to do as full-time legislators, they have the time and attention span to catch errors like these, right?
I think you know where I’m going with this… we can’t trust the government to protect rights that may be inadvertently dropped just because they are all people and anyone can make mistakes. The Constitution is there to protect our rights, but we the people have to stay vigilant and not allow them to run over our personal freedoms.
And really, even though I’m speaking to Christian believers here, this warning doesn’t even apply specifically to the evangelical church. I looked up a local Hindu temple, a couple of mosques, and a synagogue, and they are all nonprofit corporations organized under the law in the same manner as Christian churches.
So, yes, I think in a legal context, we need to stay aware and informed about what comes out of this Hobby Lobby decision, because your local church is a cousin corporation that might be forced to go down the same paths of whatever the government decides to legislate into our lives.