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A Hobson's choice: Religious freedom in the business world

By Hannah Smith

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, March 9 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Hobby Lobby and Mardel are closely held family businesses that are extensions of the life’s purpose of the religious individuals who founded and lead them: the Green Family. The Greens conduct both businesses according to their personal religious beliefs, to “honor God with all that has been entrusted” to them, and to “use the Green family assets to create, support, and leverage the efforts of Christian ministries.” Their businesses give millions of dollars every year to Christian ministries. Hobby Lobby’s mission statement includes a commitment to honor “the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” Its stores close on Sundays so employees may enjoy a day of rest, foregoing millions of dollars each year. The companies provide all its employees with free services reflecting religious values: chaplains, spiritual counseling, and religiously-themed financial courses. Hobby Lobby places hundreds of full-page advertisements around Christmas and Easter each year, inviting readers to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior.” Hobby Lobby abstains from even indirectly promoting alcohol by refusing to sell shot glasses or to haul beer in the extra space in its trucks, losing substantial profits from distributors. What else does a company have to do to prove that sincere religious values can blend with business values to shape corporate policy, practice, and culture?

When the Supreme Court convenes on March 25th, it will hear the government push for the most brazen violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act these Justices will likely ever encounter. The government burdens the businesses exercise of religion by forcing them to either renounce their religious beliefs or pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines each year. Backing Hobby Lobby and Mardel into this Hobson's choice is not moral. It is not legal either.

Hannah C. Smith is a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board and Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm that defends liberty for all faiths. The Becket Fund serves as counsel for Hobby Lobby.

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