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Ed Andrieski, Associated Press
In any case, the first principle of religious freedom should be treated as paramount, as often and at every stage possible, agreed both Starr and Dershowitz. And both hope that the Supreme Court will find a way to accommodate Hobby Lobby.

BALTIMORE — A decision may come as late as June 30, but two leading evangelicals predict a win for the owners of Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby stores who've challenged a federal mandate to pay for insurance coverage providing contraceptives they say induce abortions.

"This isn't a word of prophecy, but I think we're going to win this Supreme Court case, I really do," said Russell D. Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian and president of the denomination's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to attendees at Monday evening's panel discussion on "Hobby Lobby and the Future of Religious Liberty."

The meeting was held in Baltimore on the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual business meeting.

"The reason I think that is because the First Amendment guarantees are so clear in the history of this country," Moore added, "and because of something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993 (with a) huge, bipartisan majority in the Congress … (which) makes it very clear about the rights of conscience and freedom of religion."

Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts vendor, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet maker, are among 47 for-profit corporations challenging Affordable Care Act's provision that their employee health plans must cover certain methods of birth control, which they claim violate their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court is weighing these two cases following oral arguments heard on March 25.

At issue is whether or not the federal Department of Health and Human Services can mandate, or require, an employer to pay for contraceptives it finds religiously objectionable. Both companies, though operating across the country, are privately held concerns whose owners say their religious beliefs preclude paying for the drugs. The Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby, are evangelical Christians, and the Hahns are Menonites who own Conestoga Wood.

The Obama Administration maintains that a for-profit business does not have religious rights because the corporation, not the individual owners, provides employee benefits. Both the Green family and the Hahns.

"The government has no business bullying family business owners into paying for other people’s abortion pills, which are widely available at low cost," said Conestoga attorney David Cortman, senior counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, before the oral arguments were heard.

Rick Warren, a Baptist who pastors Orange County, California's Saddleback Church and whose "Purpose-Driven Life" is a longtime bestselling book, turned to a 2012 Supreme Court decision involving the Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran school and the government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which favored religious rights over government regulation to support his assertion about Hobby Lobby's outcome.

"I don't think we're going to lose on this one," Warren said, noting the Supreme Court voted 9-0 in favor of the private Lutheran school's First Amendment rights to fire a teacher. "So even conservatives and liberals can agree on this one: You don't touch religious liberty, it is the foundation of our society."

Warren said he's willing to risk prison to protect religious liberty, a cause he's championed during the past 18 months.

"This issue may take — as it did in Martin Luther King Jr.'s day — going to jail," he said. "I'm in! And here is the question: Who is the authority in the United States? We don't have a king; the people are the authority. You are the authority."

Moore added, "If we lose this case, the gospel is not lost. If the United States crumbles away, it's not lost. I'm spending all my time right now making sure we stay out of jail, but there is one thing worse than going to jail: And that is staying out of jail and sacrificing the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Moore and Warren were joined on the panel by pastors Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. While neither predicted an outcome for the Hobby Lobby case, both supported the need for vigilance in protecting religious liberty.

"Religious liberty will be the civil rights issue of the day," said Rodriguez, adding, "The biggest problem is the silence of the church, the apathy" on this issue.

Platt emphasized the importance of protecting the church's right to preach its message: "It is impossible to have a privatized faith with a resurrected king," he said.

And Moore, who became ERLC president a year ago, suggested a larger lesson from the Hobby Lobby case: "Many people assume religious liberty violations come with shock and awe, with tanks coming in," he said. "But religious liberty violations typically happen this way: with a bureaucrat's pen."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner