Jacob Sullum
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For many Americans, religion is something you do on weekends and holidays. For others, it is the central organizing principle of life. That split helps explain the dispute over Obamacare's requirement that businesses pay for their employees' contraceptives, which is the focus of two cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear last week.

President Obama says forcing employers to provide 100 percent coverage for 20 kinds of contraception is a straightforward matter of "public health and gender equality." He nevertheless recognizes that the rule runs afoul of certain religious doctrines, which is why he exempted churches and offered to accommodate church-affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities by routing contraceptive coverage through a middleman.

But the idea that a profit-making enterprise could raise an equally valid religious objection to the mandate seems beyond the president's ken. After all, business is business, and religion is religion.

That is not how David and Barbara Green see it. The Greens, who together with their three children own the Oklahoma-based craft store chain Hobby Lobby, are dedicated to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles."

Norman and Elizabeth Hahn, Mennonites who together with their three sons own Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet manufacturer, likewise do not leave their religious scruples at the threshold of their business. Conestoga declares, for example, that "human life begins at conception," adding that "it is against our moral conviction to be involved in the termination of human life through abortion, suicide, euthanasia, murder or any other acts that involve the taking of human life."

Both the Greens and the Hahns believe certain forms of contraception (IUDs and pills taken after intercourse) fall into that category because they can prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum. They therefore believe that forcing them to pay for those contraceptives makes them complicit in the taking of human life.

Such a requirement, the Greens and the Hahns argue, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which says "government may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" only if it is "the least restrictive means" of serving a "compelling governmental interest." Congress passed RFRA almost unanimously in response to a 1990 Supreme Court decision that loosened the restraints on laws that limit religious freedom.

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Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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