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All About Freedom

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John Burger - published on 07/04/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Hobby Lobby developments and commentary and other news you may have missed this week.

Happy Independence Day, Aleteia readers! On this 238th anniversary of our nation’s founding, many Americans have a special reason to celebrate, as religious liberty, one of the values for which the founders fought, has been confirmed once again.

But some of those commenting on the Hobby Lobby victory, such as Msgr. Charles Pope in the Archdiocese of Washington, are still cautious.

If religious liberty, a right given us by God and legally enshrined in the First Amendment, prevailed by only one vote, where are we as a country?” Msgr. Pope wrote of the 5-4 decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby. “And how long will that one vote prevail?”

But the Supreme Court’s decision is already having a ripple effect on some of the hundreds of cases challenging the federal government’s contraceptive mandate, including non-profits like EWTN and businesses like Eden Foods. Clare O’Connor at Forbeswrote a profile of Michael Potter, owner of the natural foods producer. Like many Catholic non-profits, Potter, a Catholic, had an arrangement with his company’s health insurance provider to exclude things like abortion and contraception.

But then Obamacare came along and changed all that. So he sued, saying his religious liberty was being infringed.

“In accordance with his Catholic faith, Potter believes that any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or means—including abortifacients and contraception—is wrong, explained a statement from the Thomas More Law Center, which represents him. “The HHS Mandate forced Potter to make a choice between violating a foremost tenet of his faith or face fines up to $4.5 million per year.”

There was another profile this week of one of the players in the Hobby Lobby saga: Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, who founded the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm representing Hobby Lobby. Hasson, a Notre Dame-educated theologian-cum-lawyer, started the public interest law firm in 1994. But with advancing Parkinson’s, he retired in 2012. Hasson “is writing a book he hopes will take some of the culture-war edge off what has become one of the most polarizing issues of the day,” writes Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein. “In an argument sure to rile some on both sides, Hasson’s book posits that religious liberty can be seen as a philosophical issue, not a religious one.

Speaking of religious freedom, since it’s our national holiday, you might like to test your civic knowledge by taking the same test that legal immigrants must pass before they can become citizens. But you might, as did Father John Zuhlsdorf, stumble over one question in particular. The official test asks a question about religious liberty, but it refers to it as “freedom of worship,” rather than “freedom of religion.”

What’s the difference, and why make a big deal over it? Well, as many observers have been pointing out for some time, freedom of worship allows you to do your thing in your particular church or synagogue or mosque or temple on your given holy day—and that’s it. Freedom of religion is broader, allowing you to conduct your life according to your conscience, informed by the tenets of your faith.

As Stephen Krason, president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, said in a conversation I had with him after the Hobby Lobby decision was announced Monday, “The court gave a bit of a reprieve, but the thing to be concerned about in terms of culture development is this: The administration represents a perspective, increasingly of the Democratic Party now, the shrinkage of the notion of what religious liberty means, that is, religious worship. It’s been moving for the past few decades.”

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