High court rules for Hobby Lobby

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has struck down a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ruling for the first time “closely held” companies may exercise their religious opinions and conscientiously object to providing abortion-inducing contraceptives to employees through their health insurance plans. 

Writing for the majority in Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby on June 30, Justice Samuel Alito claimed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides individually or family-owned businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, with protections against government mandates that violate religious conscience.

Page“Our responsibility is to enforce the RFRA as written, and under the standard the RFRA prescribes, the HHS (Health and Human services) contraceptive mandate is unlawful,” Alito wrote. In finding in favor of Hobby Lobby, the court affirmed the ruling of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the verdict of the 3rd Circuit. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision reaffirms one of the bedrock principles – freedom of religion – upon which America was founded,” said Larry Page, executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council. “The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS), under the Affordable Care Act, mandated that
employers secure insurance coverage that provides contraceptives for workers. Hobby Lobby offered insurance coverage to its female employees that provided 16 of the 20 contraceptives approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Based upon the deeply held religious tenets of the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, the company’s coverage excluded four contraceptives that are abortifacients (abortion-inducing drugs).   

“Pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, the Supreme Court justices found that the HHS contraceptive mandate violated the Green family’s First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. A key excerpt from the court’s ruling provides the essence of the decision. ‘The plain terms of RFRA makes it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate … against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs,’” said Page.

“While we are thankful for this correct decision by the land’s highest court and for the way it has reaffirmed the principle of religious freedom, we must be ever vigilant to defend against the seemingly constant attacks on this nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and the mores, customs, standards and laws that have emanated from them,” he said.

Ronnie Floyd, newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president,  said of the ruling, “I am thrilled at the ruling because it affirms that religious liberty is a core value of our great nation. The American people won a great victory today against governmental overreach. It serves as a strong reminder to each of us that the First Amendment extends to individuals and business owners, not just to churches and other houses of worship.”

Hobby Lobby filed suit in federal court after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Under the law, the company was required to provide insurance coverage for nearly 20 forms of contraception, including four that resulted in abortions. One of those was the “morning-after pill,” which causes the spontaneous abortion of an implanted, fertilized egg. Since the company’s owners believe life begins at conception, they objected on religious grounds and were threatened with massive fines for noncompliance with the ACA.

Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded by Mart Green, joined the case with Hobby Lobby, and in a separate case, Norman and Sam Hahn, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, also challenged the ACA’s contraceptive mandate in court. 

Both Conestoga and Hobby Lobby lost their pleas for injunction in district court, and the 3rd Circuit upheld the denial of the injunctions. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision, setting the cases on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government maintained throughout the proceedings at the Supreme Court that the federal government had a “compelling interest” in mandating the coverage of contraceptives. The court, however, decided in a 5-4 decision there was no such interest when measured against the provisions of the RFRA. 

Alito also wrote that Hobby Lobby’s Christian character was an inseparable part of the fabric of the company. The company’s purpose statement commits its leaders to honoring the Lord and operating by a set of biblical principles, such as remaining closed on Sundays, refusing to facilitate or promote the use of alcohol, contributing to Christian ministries and missions and running newspaper advertisements with an evangelistic purpose.

Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in the Green family garage after the family borrowed $600 to manufacture miniature picture frames. Today, the company employs more than 13,000 people in 572 stores across the nation. Mardel Christian Bookstores, founded in 1981, now has 35 locations in seven states. The company gives 10 percent of its corporate profits toward Bible translation.

Compiled from Arkansas Baptist News and Baptist Press reports.


440 seniors answer call to prayer for revival

LITTLE ROCK – Since being organized as part of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s (ABSC) Prayer, Revival and Spiritual Awakening Task Force, the ABSC Senior Adult Prayer Force has seen an influx in participants, seniors who are passionate about working hard to bring about revival and spiritual awakening in America and around the world.

Don Moore, former ABSC executive director, recently joined the ABSC executive and administrative team as a contract worker in order to better facilitate the mobilization of these Arkansas Baptist seniors. 

MooreOver the past three months, nine church and associational meetings have resulted in 440 Arkansas Baptist seniors making commitments in writing to pray daily for themselves, their pastors and their churches to experience revival.

“Senior adults are grasping the seriousness of the hour and committing to pray daily for revival and awakening. Nine church or associational groups have addressed this matter with a special emphasis,” said Moore.

“The seniors involved have been specifically challenged to pray weekly with another person or persons about this matter,” he said. “On a monthly basis they have been asked to pray with someone outside their fellowship for God to send revival and awakening to our land.”

Moore emphasized that senior adults are wellaware of the crises faced by the nation and by churches. 

“As secular and anti-Christian forces wield a wider influence with most of our evangelical churches declining, they realize that ‘church as usual’ will not stop the bleeding in the Body of Christ,” said Moore.  

“The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these people are becoming victims of the godless culture that surrounds them. … Aware that seven out of 10 young people 18-29 years of age who have been reached by the church leave during this age span, they realize the options for reclaiming them are limited.”

Moore added, “The hope is not in another adjustment to worship styles, slick programming, hyperactive ministries or dynamic personalities paraded before them. Such efforts have largely failed in the past.” 

Moore said the options are clear. 

“Only a supernatural movement of God can save the day for the nation and for our churches. Such events in the past have been called ‘revival’ and ‘awakening.’ Before every great awakening, God has prompted a group of people to persevere in prayer until the heavens open with showers of blessing. When Israel cried out to God, the Bible says, ‘He heard their cry and came down to deliver them,’ said Moore, referencing Exodus 3:7-8.

“Senior adults are crying out to God for Him to come down,” said Moore, going on to quote Isaiah 64:1 (NIV), which says, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!”

A Senior Adult Prayer Gathering will be held at Hot Springs Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Oct. 9-10.  Space will be limited, and reservations are required, said Moore.


Rugged Cross Cowboy Church experiences God's faithfulness

Jessica Vanderpool
Arkansas Baptist News

MAGNOLIA – What began as a vision of 15-20 people has grown into a thriving cowboy church – known as Rugged Cross Cowboy Church – with an average of 185 in worship service.

The journey between these two points has been filled with steps of faith and signs of God’s faithfulness – and Mike Launius, pastor of Rugged Cross Cowboy Church, has witnessed it all firsthand.

Launius remembers the first interest meetings held to discuss starting a Bible study. He agreed to help with the Bible study, which launched in fall 2010, and soon afterward, the group decided to become a church.

Launius was trained as a church planter through the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC); and Rugged Cross Cowboy Church was constituted in 2011, holding its first service as a constituted church on Easter Sunday.

The church reaches out to nontraditional people who love the Western heritage and don’t feel comfortable in a traditional church, explained Launius.

He said he thinks the reason cowboy churches reach people that other churches don’t has to due with the propensity of cowboy churches to truly accept people just as they are.

“And it’s nothing against the traditional church by no means,” Launius said, “but we’ve got people (who) come in from turkey hunting with their camouflage on. We’ve got people (who) come in from rodeos at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning and they come on to church and got their spurs and boots on and they have mud on their boots. … We truly accept people as they are. … We’ve got people in our church who haven’t been to church in 15-20 years and sure wouldn’t have ever thought about singing in church or being a leader in the church, and now they’re leaders of the church and they’re singing and taking a leadership role. And that wasn’t going on three years ago in their life.”

Read the rest of the story in the 6-26 edition of the Arkansas Baptist News.


Arkansas Baptist DR responds to Jonesboro area following damaging storms

JONESBORO – Arkansas disaster relief volunteers responded within hours June 5 following damaging winds and thunderstorms that swept through the north and northeast portion of the state – killing two people.

Thousands of people were reported to be without power as a result of the storms, which packed 80 mph “straight line” winds, downing trees, damaging roofs and at one location derailing a freight train. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management reported there is damage in Jackson, Independence, Craighead, Lawrence, Mississippi and Poinsett counties.

Joe Garner, disaster relief director for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), reported that teams from Walnut Street Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Tri-County Baptist Association, Wynne, Balboa Baptist Church, Hot Springs Village and Rock Bayou Baptist Association, Franklin, responded with volunteers. In all, 23 Arkansas Baptist disaster relief workers were involved with recovery efforts, completing 58 recovery jobs and two tarp jobs.

Thirty-five ministry contacts were made by volunteers, four evangelistic contacts and two professions of faith reported, according to ABSC officials.


Attorneys seek fees in Ark. same-sex case

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports in today’s edition (May 30) that the attorneys who prevailed in the lawsuit challenging the state's gay-marriage ban asked Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza to make the state and county defendants pay them at least $500,000 for their work in the case, an amount both "reasonable" and "substantial." 

Attorneys for the state of Arkansas responded immediately, calling the request premature at best, considering Piazza's decision to overturn the same-sex marriage prohibitions is on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. They've asked him to wait to make a decision until the high court rules, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

It is not known when the high court will make that ruling, as a transcript of the proceedings in Piazza's court has not been filed. Once filed and both sides submit written arguments, it is a process expected to take months, if not a year.

But if Piazza doesn't want to wait until the Supreme Court's decision, the state's lawyers want him to make the plaintiffs' attorneys show evidence to support their request, with the possibility of having a hearing on the question of payment, court filings show, the newspaper said. 

Plaintiffs in the case are 21 same-sex couples, including eight who were legally married in other jurisdictions and a single woman seeking to divorce a spouse she married in New York, the Democrat-Gazette reports. Defendants include the state departments of Health, and Finance and Administration, and county clerks in Pulaski, White, Lonoke, Conway, Saline and Washington counties, where some of the plaintiffs have been refused marriage licenses, the filing states.

The first same-sex marriage in Arkansas occurred on May 10 at the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs, according to the Democrat-Gazette. Hundreds of weddings followed, many of them at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock where clergy members volunteered to perform the ceremonies after the gay couples obtained marriage licenses.

Marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Arkansas for a week – from the day after Piazza's ruling May 9 until May 16, when the high court issued a stay. During that week, only a few counties, mostly those listed as defendants in the lawsuit – issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

Same-sex marriage is prohibited in 33 states, with each ban being challenged in court. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, judges in 21 states have ruled that their states' gay-marriage bans are unconstitutional (Link to the full text of the decision PDF). Three such decisions have occurred since Piazza invalidated the Arkansas law three weeks ago.

Piazza ruled that Arkansas' prohibition, enacted through statute in 1997, and a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2004, violate guarantees of equal protection under the state and federal constitutions, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

Read the article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription required).

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