In 2014, Hobby Lobby won a landmark Supreme Court decision that exempted the home-goods chain from providing certain forms of contraception to employees. The Court ruled that closely held for-profit companies whose owners have religious objections are protected under the First Amendment. But the 5–4 ruling left many in confused outrage: How can a for-profit company invoke a Christian identity? Shouldn’t a business operating in the secular sphere have to play by secular rules?
For Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies—two scholars with long experience tracking tensions around institutional religious freedom—such protests rely on cramped notions of what counts as “religious.” Their new book, Free to Serve: Protecting the Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations (Brazos), assesses the dangers an uncomprehending secularism poses to religious businesses, colleges, social service agencies, and student groups. CT associate editor Matt Reynolds spoke with Monsma and Carlson-Thies (fellows with the Center for Public Justice) about the religious-liberty challenges facing faith-based organizations.
What is the basic problem your book addresses?
Monsma: The book grew out of our deep concern over challenges to faith-based organizations seeking to follow the religious commitments at the heart of who they are and what they do. You see this on many fronts. These challenges aren’t random; they reflect prevalent assumptions in our society. Until these assumptions are shown to be false, we’re afraid the religious freedom of faith-based organizations will remain under threat.
Carlson-Thies: We looked at a number of areas. Some issues are matters of internal operations: Can a faith-based ...1