Martyrdom Is No Hobby

Hobby Lobby Stores have filed suit challenging the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring it to provide health insurance to its employees that includes access to the morning-after pill. [1] The reason for the challenge is that the mandate requires the “conservative Christian” family that owns it to violate their religion because the morning-after pill operates in a manner that makes it an abortifacient. It can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb.

On December 26th Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied the company’s request for an injunction that would have allowed it to disregard the HHS mandate during the pendency of the lawsuit. But that doesn’t mean that Hobby Lobby is going to obey the mandate. On the contrary, a lawyer for the company has announced that it will not comply with the regulation notwithstanding the fact that it could face fines of up to $1.3 million per day for its noncompliance.

Back when Christianity began, the apostles Peter and John were ordered by the ruling priests to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. [2] The apostles didn’t respond to that order by saying that they would stop if that was what the law required. They didn’t grudgingly agree while protesting that the priests were violating their rights. What they said was this: “If it be just in the sight of God, to hear you rather than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

Peter and John took the position that if a human commandment contradicted a commandment of God they were going to obey God, regardless of the consequences. The family that owns Hobby Lobby is taking that same position now, and it is precisely the Christian position.

Of course, the HHS mandate also requires coverage for nonabortifacient birth control, but even that can’t be complied with by Catholics, and it is important that the situation the Church is confronted with be completely understood. The issue is not restricted to Catholic institutions and hospitals. It is not, on the one hand, a violation of the right of conscience if Catholic institutions are required to pay for artificial birth control (including abortifacient birth control), yet not, on the other hand, a violation of that same right if other Catholic employers are required to do the same. More to the point, if Catholicism prohibits a Catholic institution to pay for artificial birth control, it also prohibits Catholic individuals to pay for it or provide it.

The Catholic prohibitions against abortifacients and artificial birth control apply to individuals as well as institutions. Thus, a Catholic businessperson may not, consistently with his religion, pay for artificial birth control; this holds true regardless of whether the federal government will impose sanctions for the failure to do so. That means that he cannot simply comply after all political and legal remedies are exhausted. He must hear God rather than those in political power.

This does not exclude finding ways to legitimately avoid the imposition of sanctions, provided everything is done out in the open and according to law. But payment for artificial birth control is not an option for any Catholic serious about his religion.

In the last analysis the issue is not ultimately about what politicians should be in power or how the Supreme Court should rule. It is about how we who are members of a Church that has been nourished by the blood of martyrs ought to respond to the threat of government sanctions. If we can be bludgeoned into compliance with the threat of mere monetary sanctions, the contrast between those martyrs and us will make a ridiculous picture indeed. The owners of Hobby Lobby are giving us a salutary example of the courage that is called for in a time like this.

Jack Quirk