GUEST COLUMN: Businesses and the right to pursue moral values

By: Curtis Riskey
February 26, 2014 Updated: February 28, 2014 at 10:10 am
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Values are good for some companies, just not Hobby Lobby?

We routinely praise companies that place the public good ahead of their bottom line - whether it is companies adopting ethical standards for coffee growers, clothing companies refusing to use sweatshop labor or those paying a living wage to all workers, especially in developing countries.

However, recently, the government has been arguing that businesses are legally incapable of pursuing anything other than profit. In other words, the values of an owner of a corporation must be separated from the enterprise.

One of the most important cases of the year before the Supreme Court is asking the question whether a for-profit corporation is categorically excluded from protection for free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The case is called Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The plaintiffs are David and Barbara Green. They own a business called Hobby Lobby, and they've always run the business based on Christian principles: They start all full-time employees at nearly double the minimum wage; they close on Sundays to give employees a day of rest; and they won't allow the company to engage in practices they believe to be immoral - such as facilitating alcohol use or abortion.

The Obama administration created a new mandate in the Affordable Care Act that would require Hobby Lobby to provide employees with free access to four types of contraception that can destroy a fertilized human egg. The Green family already provides employees with all mandated contraceptives for free. But they cannot, in good conscience, provide the four kinds that can terminate a human life. Because of their religious beliefs, the Greens are facing multimillion-dollar fines that threaten to destroy their business, plus many other business owners who hold the same convictions.

The fact is that it is impossible to separate the values from an individual or their enterprise; it is part of their being. This is also notably why the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed that the Affordable Care Act mandate violates the rights of the Greens and their family businesses to exercise their religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Obama administration's argument is that the mandate doesn't constitute a direct burden on the Green family because it's the corporation that must provide the coverage. That is like saying in legal terms that I am not guilty of murder because I only paid for it to occur. Unconscionable.

For hundreds of years, Christian-owned companies have been woven into the fabric of our community life, not only from a religious perspective but also from a values-driven desire to do good and bear one another's burdens. Many of these companies support food programs and homeless outreach services, adoption support, crisis pregnancy centers, prison rehabilitation programs, women's shelters, rescue missions and many other community services. They contribute to social care and promote the moral values of their faith by contributing selflessly to the community. Frankly, the America we have known and love wouldn't be the same without them.

With their values-driven outreach, Christian-owned businesses have demonstrated the positive economics and moral stability in a capitalistic system that is good for America.

Capitalism when guided by the values of a Christian-owned business is a part of what makes America exceptional.

The government says "commercial businesses and their owners - simply because they make profits - cannot exercise religion under the Constitution or federal law."

The Supreme Court should reject this false argument. For-profit companies do have the freedom to pursue moral values and express their faith as a part of conducting business. Values cannot be separated.


Curtis Riskey is president, Christian Booksellers Association, providing education and advocacy for hundreds of Christian-owned businesses worldwide for 65 years. The association is the lead petitioner of an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby's case, which is scheduled for oral arguments March 25.

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