It appears there is an internal debate in the Obama Administration on the proper role of religious liberty in America. Well, as least there seems to be one within the Obama family.
Last month Mrs. Obama expressed her expansive view of our free exercise rights at a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: "Our faith journey isn't just about showing up on Sunday," Michelle Obama said. "It's about what we do Monday through Saturday as well ... Jesus didn't limit his ministry to the four walls of the church."
Yet just a few weeks later, President Obama's Administration was arguing exactly the opposite in the brief it filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado in Newland v. Sebelius. This is the case of Hercules Industries, a business owned and operated by a devoutly Catholic family, the Newlands, who chose to take the Obama Administration to court over its mandate requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilizations free of charge to their employees.
Obama's lawyers essentially argued that the Newlands can practice their religion on Sundays, within the four walls of their church, but they have no right to let their faith inform their practices during the week. Since the Newlands have chosen to enter the "for-profit, secular" world, they must leave their faith at the door.
The Department of Justice's brief reads, "[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity."
So in order to earn a living by engaging in commercial activity, the Newlands are not allowed to let their conscience and faith inform their conduct. According to President Obama, not only did they not build their business, they don't own their consciences either.
The brief goes on to say, "Plaintiffs' free exercise claim fails at the outset because for-profit, secular employers generally do not engage in any exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment."
But, the Newlands are not your typical "for-profit" employer. It is a multi-generational family business that employs approximately 265 people in Denver, CO making HVAC equipment. They operate Hercules with their Catholic ethical principles as a guide. The Hercules' mission statement includes the commitment that "We will nurture and maintain the culture of a family owned business in which our employees grow financially, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually."
This means that their employees are treated like family. This means when Hercules Industries does well, Hercules employees and the local community do well. Under the direction of the Newlands, Hercules has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable causes, Catholic parishes, and schools, averaging nearly $60,000 every year since 2008.
In Mrs. Obama's words, they don't just "show up on Sundays" -- they practice their faith every single day.
But don't tell this to Mr. Obama's lawyers who go on to argue, "In short, Hercules Industries is plainly a for-profit, secular employer.... Here, plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that the preventive services coverage regulations substantially burden their religious exercise. Hercules Industries, Inc., is not a religious employer; it is 'an HVAC manufacturer.'"
A Carter-appointed federal judge ruled last week with the Newlands, implying that the Administration had over-stepped its statutory grounds. For the Newlands, it was a big win, but the injunction is only temporary, and it only applies to them.
August 1st was the implementation deadline for the mandate nation-wide affecting all for-profit employers. So while the Newlands received a reprieve from millions of dollars in fines for non-compliance, not so for the rest of America's employers.
Obama's attorneys paint a warped picture of religious freedom, suggesting that when you come in contact with the federal government, Constitutional rights take a back seat. In fact, they seem to be saying that Americans are no longer free to follow our conscience, except in church on Sunday.
I'm siding with Michelle on this one.