Jun 30, 2014

Local Catholics cheer Hobby Lobby decision



(CNS photo/ Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

By Carolee McGrath

SRPINGFIELD – Local prolife advocates are celebrating another U.S. Supreme Court ruling today, affirming the rights of “closely held” for profit companies to follow their religious beliefs.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled in favor of arts and craft company Hobby Lobby, which objected to the Obamacare mandate requiring them to pay for contraception for their employees.

“It’s fantastic. They’re affirming basic religious liberty here,” said Tim Biggins, the chairman of the pro-life commission for the Diocese of Springfield. “The essential ingredient here is that just because we form groups such as companies and corporations, we don’t surrender our freedom of religion.”

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, which has a store at the Holyoke Mall, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp, a Pennsylvania-based furniture company, challenged the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion stating that the HHS mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). He wrote, “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it’s hard to see what would.”

Attorney John Egan, of the Springfield law firm Egan, Flanagan and Cohen, represents the Diocese of Springfield.  “I’m optimistic… I think this indicates that at least the majority of the court is sensitive to people’s religious beliefs and will try to protect them.”

Egan explained that employees in the Diocese of Springfield are exempt from the HHS mandate because the diocese is self-insured, which shields the diocese from the directive.

The court’s decision comes on the heels of Friday’s ruling, in which the court unanimously struck down what was known as the “buffer zone” law. This Massachusetts law prohibited pro-life advocates from crossing through a 35-foot area around the entrance of an abortion clinic.

“I think this is going to be the tip of the iceberg. It could affect more Christians in other circumstances,” said attorney Andrea Brunault-McGuinness, a former member of the diocesan Pro-Life Commission. McGuinness practices family law for the Holyoke firm Brunault, Proulx and McGuinness.

“It’s certainly great news for Christians everywhere,” she continued. “Right now society has almost become anti-Christian. This says people who have strongly held religious beliefs should be protected.”

Brunault added that she doesn’t buy the argument that contraception is a necessary part of women’s healthcare.

“Contraception should not be considered part of women’s preventative health care simply because pregnancy is not a disease to be prevented. Preventable health care is meant to prevent illness, not to undermine a normal functioning female reproductive system. On the contrary, use of contraceptive drugs can put a woman at a greater risk of developing blood clots, tumors, strokes and some cancers,” said Brunault. “This is a great victory for religious freedom which is in turn a great victory for the pro-life cause.”

For more on this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS