Column: Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision marks a stand for religious freedom


Commentary by U.S. Sen. Dan Coats


The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that marked an important development in the ongoing national debate on religious freedom.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the contraception coverage mandate, imposed by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for family-owned and other closely-held companies like Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

These two companies are owned by individuals who have faith-based objections to paying for contraceptives that can terminate a pregnancy. For example, the owners of Hobby Lobby are not opposed to most forms of birth control but oppose the four that terminate a successful pregnancy.

The Supreme Court’s ruling means that employers like Hobby Lobby and Grote Industries, a family-run auto lighting company in Madison, Ind,, will not be forced to take actions contrary to their moral and religious beliefs.

I applaud this ruling because freedom of religion is a core American principle guaranteed by the First Amendment. Through this decision, the Court affirmed that the Obama Administration cannot pick and choose when to adhere to the law. But while this ruling is a welcome step, religious freedom remains under attack across our country.

Because the court’s ruling applies only to a narrow group – companies such as Hobby Lobby – most faith-based organizations like charities, hospitals and educational institutions are still required to facilitate insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs despite their religious beliefs and moral objections.

Requiring these faith-based institutions and businesses to betray the fundamental tenets of their faith is, I believe, unconstitutional, and the administration’s so-called “accommodation” is far from adequate in advancing this fundamental breach of the First Amendment to our Constitution. Those affected by this mandate are a large and diverse group that includes Indiana-based institutions like Grace College in Winona Lake and the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

Despite conscience objections and the university’s clearly outlined standards and values, Notre Dame was told by a federal appeals court earlier this year that it must comply with the Obamacare mandate.

Whether it is Notre Dame, Grace College or many other Indiana institutions of higher learning, the thread of faith that runs through these schools is essential to their religious beliefs and to their successful administration of a faith in learning education. This same thread of faith also is vital to food banks, homeless shelters and other important organizations addressing social needs in Indiana and across the country.

The protection of religious liberty means that all people of all faiths have the right to exercise their faith within the bounds of our justice system. It also means that faith-based institutions should not have to facilitate insurance coverage for products that are counter to their religious or moral beliefs.

What is at stake here is of extreme significance. Established in our nation’s founding days and sustained for more than 200 years, religious freedom is at the very core of our system of government.

My hope is that during the Supreme Court’s next term, it will strike down the administration’s mandate for all faith-based institutions and rescind this unprecedented attack on religious freedom. The rights of conscience must be preserved for all Americans, regardless of their beliefs.

Sen. Dan Coats is a Republican from Indiana. Send comments to [email protected].