By Jacqueline J. Holness
It’s that time again—the end of another year. The last month of any year is an optimum time to reflect on the previous year and plan for the new one. This year was a groundbreaking year for the Supreme Court and religious freedom.
In May, the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 in the city of Greece v. Galloway that Christian prayers offered before council meetings do not violate the Constitution. I wrote about that in a previous column.
In another 5-to-4 decision the very next month, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. that family-owned corporations do not have to provide access to 20 contraceptive methods without cost, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act; they said being forced to do so would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). With this decision, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, the other family-owned corporation in this case, do not have to provide access to forms of contraception that they are concerned could lead to abortions.
“The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA,” wrote Justice Alito in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion.
As expected, this landmark decision elicited a flurry of opinions from religious groups, both supporting and criticizing the ruling. Groups such as the American Pastors Network and the National Black Church Initiative issued statements in support of the ruling, while the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued opposing statements.
Religious leaders also expressed opinions ranging the spectrum. Chelsen Vicari, evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, praised the decision in “Ladies, Don’t be Fooled: Women Won in the Hobby Lobby Case” for The Christian Post website; however, Sally Steenland, director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, expressed the opposite in “Faith in Values: Hobby Lobby’s Win Is a Loss for Religious Liberty” on the center’s website.
Various individuals from celebrities to bloggers also voiced their opinions. Former The View cohost Sherri Shepherd spoke out in favor of the decision, challenging those in opposition to “run your own business.” Popular author and blogger Rachel Held Evans criticized the ruling in her blog post “Privilege and the Pill.”
Although the ruling is behind us, its implications in the legal, political, and business arenas will likely continue to reverberate in 2015 and beyond. This decision also has cultural implications for local churches that could be explored by ministers, ministry leaders, Sunday school teachers, Christian counselors, Christian medical professionals, and others.
In my research of this critical court case, I have discovered confusion as to what the will of God is regarding contraception in all of its many forms or the use of contraception for health conditions beyond birth control. In her blog post “Choosing to be Open to Life: Leaving Contraception Behind,” blogger Jenny Cook examined how Christians have viewed contraception historically. She ultimately decided to forego contraception altogether in favor of naturally family planning, which has been espoused by the Catholic Church.
Rachel Held Evans allowed 11 women to offer their experiences regarding birth control in the blog post “Why I Use Birth Control.” Although some of the women used birth control for its regularly intended use, some of the women used birth control to treat conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
Since contraception can potentially affect all Christians of reproductive age, local churches may want to incorporate new ways of approaching this topic in the new year:
• Speak about the history of contraception and the church as well as current developments in contraception.
• Incorporate contraception as a topic in marriage retreats, particularly for newlywed couples. In that setting invite Christian doctors and other medical professionals to present cutting-edge information about contraception.
• Offer guidance in helping families dig into God’s Word and understand how Scripture can guide on this topic.
• Discuss in small group settings books that address contraception.
• Incorporate contraception and modern life as a topic in conventions, church-wide events, and community-wide events.
While the Supreme Court is responsible for interpreting the “law of the land,” local churches are responsible for interpreting the laws of God.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.