This March, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a high-profile case revolving over whether or not the Obama administration must grant Hobby Lobby’s Christian owners a religious exemption to the HHS contraception mandate. As with most high-profile Supreme Court cases, prominent scholars, activists, lawmakers, and religious groups have publicly weighed in on which side they think should prevail. The Supreme Court has a method to hear and weigh these various interest groups in the form of “friend of the court” briefs, or amicus curiae in the legalese, in which parties can petition the Court to give their legal opinion.
The deadline for filing amici curiae was last Tuesday, January 28. At the final count, the number of briefs supporting Hobby Lobby and fellow Christian businesses far surpasses those who filed in favor of the government. In total, 56 briefs were filed on behalf of Hobby Lobby, more than double the amount that was filed in support of the Obama administration. A cursory examination of the filing organizations and individuals creates an incredible list of supporters with diverse ideologies, faiths, and partisan affiliations. Below is just a snapshot of the remarkable coalition of Hobby Lobby supporters.
It might seem unsurprising that several Christians denominations have banded together to file an amicus brief in support of Hobby Lobby. However, the vast majority of Christian denominations did not file similar briefs in Hobby Lobby’s defense, including nearly all of the mainline churches. Among the denominations filing in support of Hobby Lobby are the Anglican Church in North America, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, and the Southern Baptist Convention, along with separate briefs being filed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals. Notably, all four of the denominations are pro-life to some degree. One Christian denomination filed a legal brief against Hobby Lobby: the liberal Metropolitan Community Church.
A total of 107 members of Congress signed onto three separate briefs supporting the Hobby Lobby lawsuit. The largest was signed by 88 members of Congress, 16 senators and 62 representatives, and includes Democrats and Republicans alike. Another brief was filed by four Republican Senators aligned with the Tea Party, led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But perhaps most important to the legal merits of the case was a brief filed by many of the original signers of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), who argued that Hobby Lobby should prevail under their understanding of the law they helped pass. “Congress has commanded equal treatment of all under a religion-protective rule,” they conclude, “The government may not pick and choose whose exercise of religion is protected under the RFRA and whose is not.”
Also filing their own brief was the Democrats for Life and former Representative Bart Stupak (D-PA), who famously almost derailed passage of the Affordable Care Act due to its lack of protections against government funding of abortion. But while those filing in favor of Hobby Lobby includes both Democrats and Republicans, the lawmaker briefs in support of the government include only members of the Democratic caucus.
Religious Leaders and Theologians
Two separate briefs were filed by groups of Christian leaders and theologians, one Catholic and one Protestant. The Catholic brief was signed by 67 theologians and ethicists who explained that the abiding by the birth control mandate would be impermissible for Catholic business owners. The brief filed by 38 Protestant leaders and theologians argues more generally that Christian business owners are required to apply their religious beliefs to how the operate their businesses. Signing the Protestant brief was prominent leaders such as Rick Warren, Eric Metaxas, and Ravi Zacharias, along with organizations such as the Manhattan Declaration, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Coalition of African-American Pastors.
While the outpouring of support for Hobby Lobby sends a strong message to the Supreme Court, at the end of the day their decisions are based on legal merit. It is important and fortunate, then, that amici curiae briefs have also been filed by prominent legal scholars. One such brief was joined by prominent legal scholars such as emeritus IRD board member Dr. Robert George, bioethicist Mary Ann Glendon, and popular libertarian law-blogger Eugene Volokh. Also weighing in with the constitutional expertise are civil rights and conservative legal organizations such as the American Civil Rights Union, the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund, the Rutherford Institute, the Foundation for Moral Law, the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, and the American Center for Law and Justice.
In the past, many religious liberty cases filed by corporations have been Jewish and kosher businesses seeking exceptions from generally applicable laws. Perhaps its unsurprising then that the Orthodox Jewish community in particular has rallied behind Hobby Lobby. “[T]he Orthodox Jewish community in the United States will be substantially affected by how this Court construes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act” notes one brief filed by several Orthodox Jewish organizations, “If the limiting interpretation of the law suggested by the Government’s position in these cases is approved by this Court, observances of American Jews may be significantly curtailed.”
There were also some representatives of the Muslim community standing with Hobby Lobby. Dr. Hamza Yusuf, the president of America’s first Muslim four-year college, and Crescent Foods, a company specializing in halal food, each weighed in on the right of owners to operate their business based on their religious principles.
Issues like abortion and sexual morality often divide social conservatives and libertarians, given the former’s emphasis on personal autonomy. But speaking up on the side of Hobby Lobby is the Cato Institute, arguably the foremost libertarian think-tank in the country. Cato has long been opposed to excessive government intrusion into free markets to begin with, but their brief makes it clear that they see the issue as primarily one of religious liberty. “The government cannot force individuals to forfeit their free exercise rights when they incorporate a business- just as it cannot force individuals to forsake these liberties when they enter the workforce, attend school, or engage in any other secular pursuit.”
The central tenet of the push to force business to provide contraception is that it is necessary for full equality between men and women, and attempts to carve out religious exemptions amount to a “War on Women.” It is therefore heartening to see a number of conservative women’s groups stand with Hobby Lobby. IRD board member Dr. Janice Crouse, director of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, filed a brief challenging the notion that providing birth control actually promotes women’s health. The conservative Independent Women’s Forum also filed a brief, in which they stated their belief that the contraception mandate would “disadvantage women” by” adversely affecting health and employment options…”
Other prominent women’s groups supporting Hobby Lobby include the Susan B. Anthony List, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, and Women Speak for Themselves. Also joining the Susan B. Anthony List amicus curiae is a coalition of more than 50 state-level female legislators and executives.
This is only a partial list of amici curiae supporting the Hobby Lobby lawsuit. For a full list, visit the Becket Fund’s website. A full list of all amicus curiae briefs, including those supporting the Obama administration, can be found on SCOTUSblog.