If we lived in normal times, few would notice if the Supreme Court agreed that a group had the right to practice its religious views without government interference. The plaintiffs would sigh in relief, the chastised government agency would formulate new rules, and we'd all move on.
Obviously, we do not live in normal times. The farther we get from the Supreme Court's decision on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the less it feels like a victory for anyone. Instead, it reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.
One essential question in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the extent to which a for-profit corporation can hold to a religious (in this case, Christian) identity. In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups "use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission."
The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg's view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon. She articulated an equally small view of nonprofits when she wrote that "religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith."
This may indeed describe the mission of some churches and synagogues. But tragically, it seems Justice Ginsburg has never met a religious community that takes seriously William Temple's words that the church "exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." Such communities, which we regularly ...1
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