by Monte Sahlin
By AT News Team, July 1, 2014
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America released an official statement yesterday saying that it was "encouraged" by the decision announced this week by the Supreme Court of the United States in the "Hobby Lobby case." Other Adventists expressed reservations and concerns about the same decision.
The denomination's official statement gave emphasis to the fact that the decision "reaffirmed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which safeguards the broad religious liberty protections available to all people of faith." The denomination's religious liberty lobbyists had worked for the passage of RFRA and are vigilant about any court decision or government policy that seems to weaken the law.
The statement also pointed out that the case is one "in which religious liberty and the right to healthcare intersected. … The court’s ruling was the result of appeals by two family owned, for profit companies, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Woods Specialties, that objected to providing certain forms of birth control as required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The question for the Court was whether these companies could claim an exemption from this requirement under the First Amendment and the RFRA."
The statement made it clear that Adventist beliefs about religious liberty and health care were in tension in this case. On the one hand, "the Church is concerned with any attempt to weaken or restrict the interpretation of the [RFRA] legislation which protects religious freedom." On the other hand, the church operates "one of the largest hospital systems in the U.S. and "in its Fundamental Beliefs and teachings as based on the Bible, does not object to providing the methods of contraception at issue. … However, [it] has a long history of defending religious freedom not just for itself but all people of faith."
The bottom line for the statement: "The Adventist Church believes that while the provision of contraception is an important goal of the ACA, it is one the government can reach without forcing family held companies to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs."
The issue that the statement does not address is a concern that several Adventists have expressed to Adventist Today in the last few days. Does religious liberty include the right to force one's employees to go along with the beliefs of employers? For example if an employer does not believe in blood transfusions, does that individual have a religious right to force their employees to have a health plan which does not cover blood transfusions?
The Supreme Court decision actually goes out of the way to exclude this particular example, "but it is unclear what logic is involved here. Was that simply a political ploy on the part of the court since the blood transfusion issue makes the larger issue much more clear."
"Usually religious rights are defined in terms of being protected from the government restricting one from doing something that you feel God wants you to do," writes another reader. "It seems to have moved to a new thing all together when it is about a 'right' to exercise authority over or dictate to employees or others." He pointed out that the majority of the justices on the court are Catholics and they wrote a decision that essentially supports Catholic theology, but none of them are Jehovah's Witnesses, so it may not be surprising that they exempted the same treatment for a Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine.
"I am surprised that the Adventist Church spoke out on this issue," one pastor from California told Adventist Today. "It is so controversial and lacks a really clear-cut religious liberty issue, it seems like it might have been a good time to say nothing."