Religious liberty under siege

Religious Liberty | Read this brief to understand the issues involved in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Supreme Court case
by The Editors
Posted 3/15/14, 09:59 am

On March 25 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a monumental religious freedom case: It will consider for the first time whether companies have religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The two companies that will come before the high court, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, have Christian owners who don’t want to provide abortion-causing drugs under the “Affordable Care Act.” 

Groups from all sides have filed 82 briefs for Supreme Court clerks to read, but the justices themselves are selective and so are WORLD’s busy readers. If you’re just going to read one, take a look at the amicus brief that follows. It’s signed by organizations including Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Coalition of African American Pastors, and the Manhattan Declaration, and individuals, including Wayne Grudem, Eric Metaxas, and leaders of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. —Marvin Olasky


This brief demonstrates, historically and theologically, that requiring a Protestant Christian to choose between violating the Government’s regulations or violating his sincerely held religious beliefs substantially burdens his exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A fundamental aspect of Christian doctrine is its requirement that faith must govern every aspect of a Christian’s life. As a matter of scriptural teaching, church tradition, denominational requirement, and conscience, the exercise of the Christian religion must guide and determine a Christian’s decisions, choices, words, and deeds, both in private and in every facet of life.

The holistic nature of the Christian faith extends to a believer’s vocation. The Christian doctrine of vocation teaches that all work—whether overtly sacred or ostensibly secular—is spiritual activity, that Christians are called by God to specific occupations and businesses, and that Christians must conduct themselves in their vocations in accordance with their Christian beliefs. A Christian may not simply check his faith at the workplace door. Accordingly, Christian business owners, as a matter of scriptural requirement, are obligated to conduct their business as an expression of their faith and in accordance with the dictates of faith and conscience.

The theological requirement that Christians comply with scriptural commands in their occupation prohibits not only direct and personal wrongdoing, but also the enabling, authorizing, or aiding of another in doing what the Christian believes to be sin. Christian doctrine teaches that one who knowingly aids or abets another’s wrongdoing has himself done wrong. Accordingly, a statute or regulation requiring a Christian business owner’s complicity in conduct that his or her faith teaches is morally wrong forces a Christian into an impossible position and imposes a substantial burden on his or her exercise of religion.


I. Christian doctrine requires that faith govern every aspect of a Christian’s life.

A fundamental aspect of Christianity is its requirement that the Christian faith govern all aspects of the believer’s life. This teaching is drawn directly from the Holy Scripture and stems from the Christian belief that God’s sovereignty extends over every area of human endeavor. See, e.g., Psalm 24:1 (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”). [All quotations of Scripture herein are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.] In the words of the English theologian and poet Isaac Watts, God’s “love, so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” Isaac Watts, The Poetical Works of Isaac Watts, Vol. IV 173 (1782).

Accordingly, Christianity has never limited its reach merely to matters of theology and ceremonial observance. See, e.g., Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694, 713 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring) (agreeing with the Court’s unanimous opinion that the job duties of a Lutheran minister engaged in education “reflected a role in conveying the Church’s message and carrying out its mission” and observing that “[r]eligious teachings cover the gamut from moral conduct to metaphysical truth.”); Spencer v. World Vision, Inc., 633 F.3d 723 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (finding a Christian humanitarian organization “‘working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice’” was a religious activity); see also Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 1995, Article 17 (“In all areas of life, we are called to be Jesus’ disciples.”) (emphasis added), available at; The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article XIII (“God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. … [Christians] are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others.”), available at‌bfm/bfm2000.asp (all links last visited January 22, 2014).

Rather, Christianity teaches that one’s faith influences even those areas of life that appear superficially unrelated to worship, prayer, or theology. See, e.g., Colossians 3:17 (“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”). Indeed, Christianity teaches there is spiritual significance in every part of life, including seemingly mundane acts like eating, drinking, and working. See 1 Corinthians 10:31 (“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”); Colossians 3:23-24 (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as to the Lord.”); Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (noting “[f]or everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” and that “everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man”). From the earliest days of Protestant faith in America, theological leaders have proclaimed this principle. See, e.g., Cotton Mather, Two brief Discourses. One Directing A Christian in his General Calling; Another Directing him in his Personal Calling 64 (B. Green, et al. eds., 1701) (“[L]et every Christian Walk with God, when he Works at his Calling, and Act in his Occupation with an Eye to God, Act as under the Eye of God.”). These holistic demands of Christianity require consistency in familial, business, and social relations and are not limited to sacerdotal, ecclesial, or ritual matters.

This integration of a Christian’s entire life in relation to God is an outgrowth of the Christian gospel, which provides that God, completely righteous and without sin, by His infinite grace, justifies man who is by nature unrighteous and sinful. This cannot be accomplished by any work or merit by man to somehow achieve good standing with God, but instead is accomplished by and through the work of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Thus, by faith alone in Christ alone, man is counted righteous by God.

This doctrinal requirement that a Christian must pursue all aspects of his or her life in obedience to Christ compels Christians to do more than give mere intellectual assent. The Christian faith requires not only belief, but also conduct, and this requirement extends to every facet of the Christian’s life. See James 2:17 (“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”); Romans 12:1 (urging Christians, “in view of God’s mercy,” to devote their entire being to Him as “true and proper worship”); see also Korte v. Sebelius, 735 F.3d 654, 681 (7th Cir. 2013) (noting that religious belief is not confined to the home and the house of worship because “[r]eligious people do not practice their faith in that compartmentalized way.”); Presbyterian Church in America, Preface to the Book of Church Order, Part II.4 (“[T]here is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.”), available at (last visited January 22, 2014).

Christian doctrine requires a Christian to honor his or her conscience according to the faith. 1 Timothy 1:19 (“[H]old[] faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this some have made shipwreck of their faith.”); 1 Timothy 3:9 (“[H]old the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”). Scripture and history are replete with instances in which believers who were presented with a choice either to violate their consciences by complying with the state’s demands or to face draconian penalties chose to maintain the integrity of their faith in every aspect of life and accept the consequences. See generally John Foxe, Acts and Monuments (1563) (recounting anecdotes of early Protestant martyrs). For example, the Old Testament Scripture recounts the stories of three Hebrew men who refused to worship an image of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, despite the threat of execution for noncompliance. See Daniel 3:1-30. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast “into the burning fiery furnace” for refusing to worship the king’s image. Id. Whereas the Babylonian government conceived the requirement of bowing down to the image as merely an act of political loyalty, the three young men perceived it as a requirement to violate their faith through idolatry. Id.

Similarly, the second-century Christian martyr Polycarp was put to death for his refusal to state “Caesar is Lord.” See Justo L Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 43-44 (1984). To the Roman government, the law was merely a political issue, but to Polycarp, it was an issue of idolatry. Likewise, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, when asked to recant his beliefs, famously stated to Emperor Charles V, “[M]y conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 33: Career of the Reformer III (1972).

In sum, because Christian doctrine requires that faith govern every aspect of a Christian’s life and teaches that a Christian’s conscience is captive to the word of God, a Christian must act in accordance with his beliefs and in integrity of conscience in every aspect of life. Simply stated, the exercise of Christian faith must, as a matter of scriptural teaching, church tradition, and denominational requirement, guide and determine a Christian’s decisions, choices, words, and deeds, both in private and in every facet of life.

II. Christian doctrine teaches that an individual’s vocation is ordained by God as a spiritual enterprise in which Christians must serve in accordance with their spiritual callings.

Contrary to the government’s position in this appeal, there is no dichotomy between commercial work and Christian religious exercise. To the contrary, Christianity teaches the exact opposite: that the holistic nature of the Christian faith encompasses a believer’s vocation, imbuing it with spiritual significance. To assert that a Christian can compartmentalize his faith and religious practices separately from his vocation is a gross misapprehension of the guiding religious principles at issue in this case. As explained below, the Christian doctrine of vocation teaches that any occupation to which a Christian is called has a sacred dimension and is a venue on which Christians must conduct themselves in accordance with their Christian beliefs and the dictates of their consciences.

A. The Christian doctrine of vocation teaches that all work is spiritual activity.

Christianity has long taught that work is divinely ordained and that even seemingly commercial endeavors have spiritual significance. The apostle Paul—the most prolific writer of the Christian New Testament—exhorted early Christians to engage in seemingly secular work because of its concomitant spiritual dimension. See, e.g., Ephesians 4:28 (stating Christians “must labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need”); Colossians 3:23-24 (exhorting Christians in ostensibly secular employment to work diligently “as for the Lord”); see also Korte, 735 F.3d at 681 (“There is nothing inherently incompatible between religious exercise and profit-seeking.”).

These scriptural commands are reflected in longstanding Christian practice and doctrines, most notably the doctrine of vocation. Ordinary human work is a key theological topic from the beginning of Scripture:

A biblical understanding of work reaches back to the very beginning of the world. As we look at the doctrine of creation, we find human work placed into a context of God’s work, of human creation in the image of God, of God’s command for people to work as part of his provision for human life, and human cooperation with God in work.

Leland Ryken, Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective 128 (1987). Several theological truths shape the foundation of the Christian understanding of vocation. First, God is a worker. He is a creative craftsman, setting out the heavens and the earth and forming mankind from the dust. Genesis 1:1, 2:7 (noting that “God created the heavens and the earth” and that “God formed the man from the dust of the ground”). Similarly, Jesus Christ himself, during his time on earth, labored as a carpenter. See Mark 6:3. God’s creative work has doctrinal implications for human work: “The Christian doctrine of creation at once renders impossible any dichotomy between the earthly and the sacred. The world has value to God and therefore to his creatures who live and work in it.” Ryken, Work and Leisure at 122.

Second, Christian doctrine teaches that human beings are created in God’s image. See Genesis 1:27 (“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”). Accordingly, humans work because God is a worker, and their work is modeled on His. In Christian theology, then, work is never a purely financial transaction, but something rooted in the very nature of the human person. See Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe) 89 (1949) (“[M]an, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”); Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work 38 (2013) (“What is the Christian understanding of work? … [It] is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is … the medium in which he offers himself to God.”).

Third, work is divinely ordained and prescribed by God. In what theologians call “the creation mandate,” the Biblical account of creation recounts that in God’s first spoken words to His newly created image bearers, He tasked them with tending and stewarding the earth. See Genesis 1:28 (“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”). The immediacy of this charge indicates the fundamental nature of work in mankind’s raison d’être. The “link between work and God’s creation of the world confirms that work has the character of a natural law. Like gravity, it is simply one of the ‘givens’ of the world God created.” Ryken, Work and Leisure at 124.

B. The Christian theology of vocation encompasses both overtly sacred and seemingly secular occupations.

The foundational principles of the spirituality of work apply to the clergy and laity alike, and the Christian doctrine of vocation makes no distinction between “sacred” and “secular” occupations. A particular calling is no less religious because the worker is paid or because the work is ordinary or mundane:

[N]o one should be ashamed of being called to a vocation through which God blesses people in more tangible ways: waiting on tables, digging foundations, hauling away garbage. Nor should those of us who are blessed by God through these vocations look down upon them. As for those who work with their hands—on a shop floor on a factory line, on a construction site—they are especially honored in the Bible, in a text that says much about vocation, ambition, and the Christian’s life in the world: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life 74 (2002). Indeed, the word “vocation”—a term often used merely to mean an occupation—is weighty with spiritual meaning. See Webster’s Third New Int. Dictionary 2561 (2002) (defining “vocation” as “a summons from God to an individual or group to undertake the obligations and perform the duties of a particular task or function in life”); The Compact Oxford English Dictionary 723 (2002) (defining “vocation” as “[t]he action on the part of God of calling a person to exercise some special function, especially of a spiritual nature, or to fill a certain position” and noting its Latin root vocare, meaning “to call” or “summon”); see also William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations 750 (1631) (“A vocation or calling is a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God for the common good.”).

The inseparability of sacred and secular work is particularly relevant to the 82 million Americans who identify themselves as Protestant or as members of a Protestant denomination. See U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 Statistical Abstract, American Religious Identification Survey 2008: Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population, available at /cats/population/religion.html (last visited January 22, 2014); see also The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 5 (2008) (noting that 26% of American adult population identifies as Evangelical Protestant, 18% identify as mainline Protestant, and seven percent identify as members of a historically black Protestant church), available at (last visited January 23, 2014).

Historically, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries brought about a revitalized view of vocation, wherein all work done in faith by God’s people was sacred, whether accomplished in the church and monastery or in the fields and courthouse. See Veith, God at Work 19; Ryken, Work and Leisure at 68-69 (noting the Reformers “began by rejecting the medieval division of work into sacred and secular” and that “[t]he result of this was to make all work done for God’s glory sacred”); Douglas J. Schuurman, Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life 5 (2004) (“As Luther saw it, the labors of the cobbler and the preacher are equally holy and equally valued by God if undertaken in faith. [B]oth reformers insisted that all legitimate social roles were holy if undertaken in faith.”).

Subsequent generations of Protestant theologians likewise emphasized the spiritual significance of “secular” work. For example, the influential American Puritan minister Cotton Mather wrote: “When you Handle the Plough, or Handle the Axe, or use either Nerves or Brains in your Occupation, and whatsoever ye do, you may do all for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Mather, Two brief Discourses 69. Similarly, according to the Puritan clergyman William Law,

[W]orldly business is to be made holy unto the Lord, by being done as a service to Him, and in conformity to His Divine will.

* * *

Men of worldly business, therefore, must not look upon themselves as at liberty to live to themselves, to sacrifice to their own humors and tempers, because their employment is of a worldly nature. But they must consider, that, as the world and all worldly professions as truly belong to God, as persons and things that are devoted to the altar, so it is as much the duty of men in worldly business to live wholly unto God, as it is the duty of those who are devoted to Divine service.

* * *

Men may, and must differ in their employments, but yet they must all act for the same ends, as dutiful servants of God, in the right and pious performance of their several callings. Clergymen must live wholly unto God in one particular way. … But men of other employments are, in their particular ways, as much obliged to act as the servants of God, and live wholly unto Him in their several callings.

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life 20 (1728); see also Hosanna-Tabor, 132 S. Ct. at 709 (rejecting the supposed dichotomy between religious and secular duties and noting that “[t]he heads of congregations themselves often have a mix of duties, including secular ones”). In sum, as a matter of longstanding and widely recognized Protestant Christian doctrine, all work—whether overtly sacred or seemingly secular—is spiritual activity ordained by God, and every believer’s vocation is a spiritual calling.

C. The Christian doctrine of vocation teaches that Christians are called by God to specific occupations and activities.

In addition to the Christian belief that ostensibly secular work is divinely ordained and weighted with spiritual significance, the doctrine of vocation teaches that Christians are called by God not merely to work generally but to specific occupations and activities. See, e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:17 (“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”); Esther 4:14 (noting that Esther’s unexpected elevation to Persian nobility was a providential appointment to a station in which she should serve God and others through her unswerving devotion to God and his calling). Indeed, “vocation” is defined in part as “[t]he particular function or station to which a person is called by God.” The compact Oxford English Dictionary (emphasis added); see also Webster’s Third New Int. Dictionary 2561 (2002) (defining “vocation” as “a summons from God to an individual or group to undertake the obligations and perform the duties of a particular task or function in life”) (emphasis added).

This specificity of calling was a theme of the Protestant reformers. Martin Luther taught that every Christian had at least two vocations or callings: “the call to become part of the people of God” and “the call to a particular line of work.” William C. Placher, ed., Callings: Twenty Centuries of Wisdom on Vocation 206 (2005). Similarly, John Calvin wrote that “each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.X.6 (1559) (John T. McNeill ed., Ford Lewis Battles trans., 1960).

Like the Reformers, subsequent generations and Protestant denominations continued to recognize the specificity of one’s divine occupational calling. For example, the Puritan theologian William Perkins taught that the call of God is often a call to a particular type of ordinary work:

A personal calling is the execution of some particular office, arising of that distinction which God makes between man and man in every society. First I say, it is the execution of some particular office, as, for example, the calling of a Magistrate is to execute the office of government over his subjects, the office of a Minister is to execute the duty of teaching his people, the calling of a Master is to execute the office of authority and government over his servants, the office of a Physician is to put in practice the good means whereby life and health are preserved. In a word, in every estate the practice and execution of that particular office, wherein any man is placed, is his personal calling.

Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations at 754 (emphasis in original); see also Mather, Two brief Discourses 37-38 (“[E]very Christian hath also a Personal Calling; or a certain Particular Employment, by which his Usefulness in his Neighbourhood is distinguished. … It is not only necessary, That a Christian should follow his General Calling, it is of necessity, that he follow his Personal Calling too.”).

Contemporary theologians continue to recognize the specificity of one’s vocational field: “We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history.” Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central purpose of Your Life 31 (1998). The twentieth-century Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood, who served as chaplain to both Harvard and Stanford universities, noted that this specificity of calling means that “[m]ost men ought to stay where they are and make their Christian witness in ordinary work rather than beyond it.” Elton Trueblood, Your Other Vocation 58 (1952).

This specificity of calling magnifies the dilemma faced by a Christian business owner, who is forced to choose between violating his conscience or leaving his business. Because God calls men and women to particular vocations and businesses, both of these choices are aptly characterized as violations of conscience. In the absence of accommodation of his religious belief, his choice is not whether to violate God’s calling and commands, but how he will violate them.

D. The Christian doctrine of vocation requires that Christians act in their vocations in accordance with their Christian beliefs.

Christian doctrine teaches that a central task of the Christian is to fulfill his vocational work as spiritual service to God and for the aid of his fellow man. Whether he is an unskilled laborer, a highly educated professional, an executive, or a business owner, a Christian is called to work, and he violates the fundamental tenets of the faith if he checks his faith at the workplace door. The doctrine of vocation is a key element of the Christian’s duty to life in the world, because it gives specific content to the manner in which Christian believers love their neighbors, as commanded by Jesus. See, e.g., Mark 12:31 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”). In other words, in Christian doctrine, the calling to ordinary work is a primary means by which the people of God love their neighbors.

There are important implications to this theological requirement. The doctrine of vocation teaches that God does His work in the world through Christians loving and serving others through their vocations. Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation 8-9 (Carl Rasmussen, tr.) (1957) (“ ‘[God] gives the wool, but not without our labor. If it is on the sheep, it makes no garment.’ … [I]t must be sheared, carded, spun, etc. In these vocations God’s creative work moves on, coming to its destination only with the neighbor who needs the clothing.”) (quoting 17 D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe 414-18 (1883)).

Christianity, however, teaches that Christians are incapable of performing these requisite “good works” on their own. The Westminster Confession of Faith, researched and drafted in the 1640s, and which is among the foundational doctrinal statements of many mainline American Protestant denominations today, provides that “[g]ood works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.” Westminster Confession of Faith § 16.1 (1646). They “are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith,” id. § 16.2, and Christians’ “ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ,” id. § 16.3.

Christians—including the owners of Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties—perceive a religious duty to work for the good of their employees, the communities in which they are located, and their families. See The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article XV (“All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society.), available at (last visited January 22, 2014).

Christian doctrine has long taught that Christians of every occupation must practice their business in accordance with their general calling to be Christian:

Every particular calling must be practiced in and with the general calling of a Christian. It is not sufficient for a man in the congregation and in common conversation to be a Christian, but in his very personal calling he must show himself to be so. As for example … [a] Schoolmaster must not only be a Christian in the assembly, when he hears the Word and receives he Sacraments, but he must also show himself to be a Christian in the office of his teaching. And thus must every man behave himself in his particular calling.

Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations at 756-57. Furthermore, because a Christian’s occupational endeavors are a fulfillment of God’s call, those acts must be in conformity with His commands, and a Christian must abstain from any action in his work contrary to his faith:

If the duties and obligations of these spheres serve the neighbor, they should be fulfilled “as to the Lord.” … If the duties and obligation of these spheres harm the neighbor, they should be rejected for the sake of the Lord, who died for all. Those spheres should be transformed, if at all possible, so that they issue in actions that serve the neighbor. One is not called to be a Christian “in general”; one is called to be a Christian in the concrete social locations one presently occupies.

Schuurman, Vocation at 29; see also Mennonite Church USA Confession of Faith, Art. 23, The Church’s Relation to Government and Society (“We may participate in … society only in ways that do not violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and do not compromise our loyalty to Christ.”), available at confession-of-faith-in-a-mennonite-perspective-1995/ article-23-government/ (last visited January 19, 2014).

In sum, according to Christian thinking, Christians—including the owners of for-profit businesses—are called by God to work in particular occupations and businesses and to do so as an expression of their faith and in accordance with the dictates of their faith and conscience.

III. Christian doctrine states it is a sin for a Christian to enable or aid another in doing what the Christian believes to be sin.

Christian doctrine, like the civil and criminal law of this nation, teaches that one who knowingly aids or abets another’s wrongdoing has himself done wrong. See, e.g., 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (warning Christians to take care not to be a “stumbling block” to others and noting that “sinning against your brothers and wounding their [conscience] when it is weak, you sin against Christ”); Romans 14:13-14 (“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” and thus cause them to sin); Matthew 18:6 (“[W]hoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”); The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly 245 (1841) (“That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavour that it may be avoided or performed by others.”); see also Gilardi v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Servcs., 733 F.3d 1208, 1215 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (noting that “even attenuated participation may be construed as a sin”) (citation omitted).

This principle applies with particular force to situations in which a Christian’s action or inaction involves the taking of life. See, e.g., The Large Catechism by Martin Luther (1529), reprinted in Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church (1921) (“So also, if you see any one innocently sentenced to death or in like distress, and do not save him, although you know ways and means to do so, you have killed him.”); Thomas Vincent, An Explanation of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism 171-72 (1806) (“We are forbidden to kill … others, either directly … or indirectly, by doing any thing that tendeth thereunto. … We may be guilty of the murder of … others, indirectly, by doing any thing that tendeth to take away … others lives.”).

Courts and legislatures have long recognized that one’s sincere religious beliefs may prevent him from approving, authorizing, or aiding another in something the believer considers to be wrong, even if the believer is not himself committing the underlying wrong. For example, Congress exempts religious conscientious objectors not only from combat roles but from participation “in any form” in war. 50 U.S.C. App. § 456(j); Hanna v. Secretary of the Army, 513 F.3d 4 (1st Cir. 2008) (upholding permanent injunction exempting Coptic Christian physician from active duty because she could not perform her chosen profession in the military context without violating her deeply held religious beliefs). Also, physicians and hospitals with a religious objection to abortion are exempt not only from performing abortion but also from assisting, making facilities available, or even making referrals for abortion. 42 U.S.C. § 300a-7; 42 U.S.C. § 238n. Similarly, “eleven states and the federal government have adopted some type of statute or regulation to ensure that individuals are not forced to participate in executions against their will.” Mark L. Rienzi, The Constitutional Right Not to Kill, 62 Emory L.J. 121, 139 (2012).

The courts, like the legislatures, have recognized that one’s religious belief may prevent him from any attenuated authorization or complicity in conduct he considers to be wrong. See, e.g., Thomas v. Anchorage Human Rights Comm’n, 165 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 1999) (recognizing a Christian landlord’s sincere religious belief that unmarried cohabitation was sin merited exemption from state and local housing laws), vacated en banc as not ripe for judicial review, 220 F.3d 1134 (9th Cir. 2000); Attorney Gen. v. Desilets, 636 N.E.2d 233 (Mass. 1994) (same); State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 7 (Minn. 1990) (same).

The statutory and judicial religious exemptions enumerated above are notable for several reasons. First, none of them make the applicability of the exemption dependent on the religious believer’s tax status, i.e., whether the religiously motivated conduct involves commercial or non-profit activities. See, e.g., Desilets, 636 N.E.2d at 238 (“The fact that the defendants’ free exercise of religion claim arises in a commercial context … does not mean that their constitutional rights are not substantially burdened.”). Second, they recognize that religious belief not only prevents the believer from engaging directly in sin but also prevent any participation, authorization, or enabling of what he considers to be sin. See Rienzi, 62 Emory L.J. at 139 (noting that statutory exemptions from participating in capital punishment “protect the individual not only from direct involvement—such as personally administering a lethal injection or turning on the electric chair—but also less direct involvement such as preparing the individual and apparatus used, supervising other people who will do these things, or even attending the execution.”) (citation omitted). Finally, many of these exemptions involve situations involving the taking of human life, recognizing that to compel an individual to participate in what he believes to be an unjustified taking of life imposes a grievous burden on his exercise of his beliefs.

IV. Requiring a Christian to choose between violating the Government’s regulations or violating his sincerely held religious beliefs substantially burdens his exercise of religion.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq., prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening “a person’s exercise of religion,” id. at § 2000bb-1(a), unless applying that burden is the “least restrictive means of furthering … [a] compelling governmental interest,” id. at § 2000bb-1(b). In enacting RFRA, Congress sought to restore the compelling interest test for defenses to claims that a facially neutral law of general applicability “substantially burdens” the free exercise of religion—a test that had been abandoned by the Supreme Court in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990). See 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb(b)(1) (“The purposes of this chapter are: (1) to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened.”) (emphasis added). Thus, RFRA creates a statutory right to exemption from laws that substantially burden sincere religious beliefs, even if the law is neutral and generally applicable, unless the government can prove that “strict scrutiny” is met. O’Bryan v. Bureau of Prisons, 349 F.3d 399, 401 (7th Cir. 2003).

The existence of a substantial burden is most apparent when the government forces a person or group to “perform acts undeniably at odds with fundamental tenets of their religious beliefs.” Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 218 (1972) (finding that compulsory formal secondary education was an undue burden on the free exercise of Amish parents’ religion). Further, a substantial burden can arise indirectly if the receipt of benefits is conditioned on the performance of conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or benefits are denied because of conduct required by a religious faith. Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 717-18 (1981) (determining that a denial of unemployment benefits to an employee who had a religious objection to war was a burden on his religion).

 As a threshold matter, the religious objection or conduct at issue must be both sincere and religious. See United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 184–86 (1965) (holding an objection to military conscription must be protected only if it arises from sincerely held religious beliefs rather than personal morals). The religious belief is not, however, required to be central to the person’s faith, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(7)(A), nor is it required to be a correct interpretation. See United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 257 (1982) (“Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.”); but see Hernandez v. C.I.R., 490 U.S. 680, 699 (1989) (finding that “hav[ing] less money available” for religious purposes due to an exemption from tax breaks is not a substantial burden on religion). Instead, a party must only show an “honest conviction” that the pressure from the government substantially conflicts with his religion. Thomas, 450 716. Rather than questioning the validity of the belief, the court undertaking the substantial burden analysis under RFRA should focus on the intensity of the coercion applied by the government, requiring that the restrictive law protect “interests of the highest order.” Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 546 (1993).

Christian doctrine requires a Christian worker or business owner to conduct his business in line with his beliefs. See Part II.D, supra. Furthermore, under the doctrine of vocation, a Christian should not be required to find a new job or change his business—to which he has been specifically called by God—solely because of governmental intrusion. See Part II.C, supra; see also The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article XVII (“Civil government being ordained by God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. … The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind.”), available at (last visited January 23, 2014). To force a Christian business owner to choose between paying crippling fines by conducting his business in line with his religious tenets or sacrificing his core values in order to preserve his business is exactly the type of coercion the substantial burden test encompasses.

This Court has previously recognized that sincerely-held religious beliefs subject to government pressure at the workplace can result in a substantial burden on religion. See Thomas, 450 716 (finding a substantial burden existed when an employee, who had a religious belief against producing war materials, was denied unemployment benefits after quitting because of a transfer to a tank turret production factory); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 404 (1963) (holding that denial of unemployment benefits placed a substantial burden on a Seventh-day Adventist who quit her job after being forced to work on a Saturday).

Significantly, in the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), Congress has recognized this substantial burden by establishing exemptions for other religious groups cornered into making this choice. See 45 C.F.R. § 147.131 (2013) (allowing HRSA to exempt religious employers from requirement to cover contraceptive services under group health plan); see generally 78 Fed. Reg. 39870 (July 2, 2013) (“[G]roup health plans established or maintained by certain religious employers (and group health insurance coverage provided in connection with such plans) are exempt from the otherwise applicable requirement to cover certain contraceptive services”). The inherent discrimination involved in the Government’s recognition of exempt groups only compounds the burdensome nature of the fines imposed by the Government’s regulations on non-exempt groups that share exactly the same religious views. See Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 406 (recognizing that a prohibition against requiring employees to work on Sunday compounds the unconstitutionality of forcing a Sabbatarian to work on Saturday).

In sum, the government’s regulations substantially burden a Christian business owner’s exercise of his religion by imposing draconian fines on him as a result of his acts that are specifically mandated by Christian doctrine.


For the reasons set forth above, amici respectfully request this Court hold that RFRA allows a for-profit corporation to abstain from providing its employees with certain abortifacient contraceptives based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

Respectfully submitted,

Jay T. Thompson

Counsel of Record

Miles Coleman

Brandon Smith

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP

1320 Main Street

Columbia, SC 29201

Counsel for Amici Curiae

January 28, 2014

List of Amici Curiae

Identification of organizations, institutions, and businesses with which individual amici curiae are affiliated does not imply endorsement by the respective organizations, institutions, and businesses.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Coalition of African American Pastors

Manhattan Declaration

InStep International

Daniel Akin, Ph.D.

President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Bruce Ashford, Ph.D.

Provost and Dean of Faculty, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

Founder and National Spokesman, The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

John A. Bloom, Ph.D.

Professor of Physics and Academic Director for M.A. Program for Science and Religion, Biola University

Linwood Bragan, J.D.

Executive Director, CapStand Council for Policy and Ethics

Chad O. Brand, Ph.D.

Professor of Christian Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Donald Arthur “D.A.” Carson, Ph.D.

Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

David O. Dykes, D.Min.

Senior Pastor, Green Acres Baptist Church Tyler, Texas

Matthew Flannagan, Ph.D.

Teaching Pastor, Takanini Community Church, Auckland, New Zealand

Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.

Professor of Apologetics and Co-Founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary and Veritas Evangelical Seminary

Rev. Trevón Gross

Senior Pastor, Hope Cathedral, Jackson, New Jersey

Wayne A. Grudem, Ph.D.

Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary

Danny Han, D.Min.

Senior Pastor, JOY Christian Fellowship, Englewood, New Jersey

Daniel R. Heimbach, Ph.D.

Senior Professor of Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Joseph M. Holden, Ph.D.

President and Professor of Theology and Apologetics, Veritas Evangelical Seminary

Hershel Wayne House, Th.D., J.D.

Distinguished Research Professor of Theology Law and Culture, Faith Evangelical College and Seminary

Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church and Presiding Bishop of International Communion of Evangelical Churches

Clay Jones, D.Min.

Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics, Biola University

David W. Jones, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of Th.M. Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Kenneth D. Keathley, Ph.D.

Professor of Theology and Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith & Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Kevin A. Lewis, M.Div., J.D.

Associate Professor of Theology and Law, Biola University

Rev. Art Lindsley, Ph.D.

Vice President of Theological Initiatives, Institute for Faith, Work and Economics

Scott Matscherz, D.Min.

Academic Dean and Professor of Ministry and Religion, Veritas Evangelical Seminary

Alex McFarland, D.Div.

Director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics, Christian Worldview Center of North Greenville University

Eric Metaxas

American Author and 2012 Keynote Speaker for National Prayer Breakfast

Terry Mortenson, Ph.D.

Speaker, Writer, and Researcher, Answers in Genesis

Andrew D. Naselli, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology, Bethlehem College and Seminary

J. Randall Price, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Center for Judaic Studies and Distinguished Research Professor, Liberty University

Scott B. Rae, Ph.D.

Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics and Dean of Faculty, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

Rick Schenker

President and CEO, Ratio Christi

Rev. Gregory S. Smith

President, InStep International

John Stonestreet

Speaker and Fellow, Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview

Derek W.H. Thomas, Ph.D.

Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina

Frank Turek, D.Min.

Author and Theologian

Eric Teetsel

Executive Director, Manhattan Declaration

Richard D. Warren, D.Min.

Founder and Senior Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California

Hugh C. Whelchel, Th.M.

Executive Director, Institute for Faith, Work and Economics

Ravi Zacharias, D.Div.

Founder, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries