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A sense of liberty is the natural state of man

A sense of liberty is the natural state of man

Parrish Miller
July 1, 2014

Monday's Supreme Court ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is being hailed by many as a victory for religious liberty and, to some degree, this viewpoint may have merit, but there remains an important caveat. The 5-4 decision was based solely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), and not on the First Amendment, the 14th Amendment or any other portion of the Constitution.

Because this decision was based solely on an act of Congress, Congress retains the power to, at any time, reverse this and any other decision based on this statute. Writing in concurrence, Justice Kennedy wrote that "the Court does not pretend that the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause demands religion-based accommodations so extreme" as those contained in RFRA and that Congress "dictated the extraordinary religion-based exemptions today's decision endorses."

Kennedy states emphatically that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga lack "a tenable claim under the Free Exercise Clause," and calls out RFRA as both "extreme" and "extraordinary" for holding that private business owners should not be forced by the government to provide a benefit that they find morally repugnant.

Beyond the question of a congressional statute versus the Constitution is an even more fundamental differentiation regarding the nature of liberty. The majority opinion refers on multiple occasions to the fact that the religious beliefs held by the plaintiffs are "sincerely held," although they do not attempt to define exactly what the alternative would be.

This language also exists in Idaho statute [18-611, Freedom of Conscience for Health Care Professionals] where it declares that "'Conscience' means the religious, moral or ethical principles sincerely held by any person." It was also contained in a bill introduced last year [House Bill 426] which, had it passed, would have added four occurrences of the phrase "sincerely held religious beliefs" to Idaho law.

What is liberty? The dictionary defines it as "the power to do as one pleases," "freedom from physical restraint," and "freedom from arbitrary or despotic control." What it does not attempt to do is quantify why one has such freedoms or powers. It also does not indicate that "the power to do as one pleases" requires such desire to be on the basis of a "sincerely held" belief. Indeed, merely having a desire is sufficient grounds for liberty to exist.

Striking down the contraception mandate was the correct decision, but it was done for the wrong reason. Liberty is man's natural state. Indeed, Samuel Adams said that "the natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on Earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man" and Thomas Jefferson observed that "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."

The only reason which should be required for a business to offer or decline to offer certain benefits is because that is what its owners choose to do. Any government mandate which demands positive action (as opposed to forbidding harmful action) is necessarily tyrannical because it inhibits our "unobstructed action according to our will" which is what our natural liberty entitles us to enjoy. The Supreme Court did the right thing for the wrong reason and that error sets a dangerous precedent that will not be easily overcome.

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