Faith inspires not only charitable work, but charity in all work. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the pleas of two families whose faith has long inspired and shaped the way they do business. They seek only the freedom to continue living out their vocations through their businesses without fear of punishment by the government.
It is easy to see faith inspiring charity in the many homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other charitable endeavors started by people of faith in our country. Studies show that people of faith donate more to charities — whether or not the charities have a religious affiliation. Americans in particular have been deemed the “most generous” people in the world.
But if we look more carefully, we can also see how faith can inspire generosity in other workplaces. Many businesses run by people of faith choose to pay employees more, commit to preserving the environment, establish college funds, or donate significant amounts to nonprofit causes.
People of faith do all of these things because they believe that religion should inspire the decisions they make outside of the four walls of their chosen house of worship. Indeed, Pope Francis has observed that “religion [cannot] be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life.” Faith moves us to show concern and responsibility for promoting the common good for the entire human family — including our employees, our neighbors, and those depressed by poverty or hurting from illness.
The Catholic Church has a firm conviction that every Christian is called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to his or her vocation. Some Catholics, like the Little Sisters of the Poor who run nursing homes for the elderly poor, devote their entire lives to helping others and embrace a vow of poverty themselves.
Other Catholics use their God-given talents to start family businesses where they provide generous benefits to their employees and give large amounts of time and money to local and national charities.
Our Christian brothers and sisters like the Green and Hahn families strive in a similar way to practice charity through their business endeavors. The Greens, who own Hobby Lobby Stores, pay full-time employees at almost double the minimum wage, offer generous health benefits, and allow their employees ample time off from work. The Hahns, who own Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker, have committed to care for and preserve the environment in how they operate their business.
Both the Green and Hahn families should not be forced to check their faith at the door of their businesses. But Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood now face annual fines of millions of dollars if they do not provide life-terminating drugs and devices in their employee health plans due to a mandate from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
The government has already decided to exempt millions of employees from this mandate for non-religious reasons, but unfortunately, has not extended the same treatment to people striving to follow their faith in business and through nonprofit organizations.
As I explained in a letter to President Obama, this disparity “harshly and disproportionately penalizes those seeking to offer life-affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of their faith.”
It is wrong to penalize people — whether they sell crafts, make cabinets, or run a nursing home — for following their faith. The Greens, the Hahns, and the Little Sisters alike seek the simple goal of continuing to practice their faith in daily life, free from government conscription into a program that violates their core religious beliefs.
The federal Constitution and laws protect the freedom to exercise faith beyond the four walls of a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. The workplace and marketplace, whether non-profit or for-profit, are not religious-freedom free zones; they still consist of human beings whose inherent dignity demands the same protection there as elsewhere.
In fact, many churches, charities, and religious nonprofits regularly incorporate precisely to serve people more effectively. Similarly, when a family business decides to take on a corporate form, it does not diminish, least of all abandon, the deeply-held beliefs that inspire the enterprise.
Community activists and political leaders, as well as religious leaders, often call on businesses to act with a conscience and exercise social responsibility with a view to promoting the greater common good — and rightly so. Government should not punish those who have responded to this call.
Faithful families — just like religious organizations such as Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities — should not have to give up their core convictions when they open their doors to serve others. In any arena, when people are free and encouraged to develop their moral conscience, America — and the world — will be the better for it.