Lawyer: Catholics, vegans and Starbucks all need conscience rights

American flag CNA US Catholic News 6 18 13

A leading religious freedom lawyer says the HHS mandate controversy involves whether government can force businesses and their owners to disregard their own values as they seek to make a living.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said that businesses frequently make "decisions of conscience."

"Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters," Rienzi said in an Aug. 11 opinion essay for USA Today.

"You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them," he said. "Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living."

The Becket Fund is among the opponents of the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that requires most employers to provide full insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that may cause early abortions. The U.S. Catholic bishops' conference has also decried the measure as a massive infringement on religious freedom. 

Rienzi said that the Obama administration's efforts to compel businesses to purchase coverage for abortifacient drugs reject the idea that one can "make money and be religious."

Acts of conscience are informed by religious views about activities in which one can or cannot participate, he explained.

"Some Jewish store owners cannot sell leavened bread at certain times of the year. Some Muslim truck drivers cannot transport alcohol. Some Catholic prison workers cannot participate in executions," he said.

"If religious freedom means anything, it means that these people – just like Chipotle, Starbucks and everyone else in our society – are allowed to earn a living and run a business according to their values," Rienzi stressed.

"In a tolerant society, we should just accept that our neighbors will have different beliefs, and that government-enforced conformity is rarely the best answer to this diversity."

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.