By Congressman Joe Pitts and Anthony Hahn
The news must have seemed strange to people used to being persecuted for their religious beliefs: across the ocean there was a new English colony where people of any faith could live their beliefs freely. We can only imagine the skepticism that greeted William Penn and his messengers as they spread this message through a Europe steeped in religious persecution.
Thousands undertook the perilous journey across the Atlantic, up the Delaware River and into Pennsylvania. Penn was no liar, and indeed people of many faiths were able to come, setting up sometimes radical communities. Many of these experiments faded, but not because of state opposition. Just 100 years after Pennsylvania’s founding, this notion of religious freedom had spread across the colonies and would become enshrined in our First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
For much of human history, government has strictly dictated people’s religion. When the king decided he was changing faiths, his people were forced to convert too, often at the point of a sword. But now William Penn’s once radical ideal is accepted as an essential part of what makes America special.
Today, here in Pennsylvania, people continue to live out their faith in the public square. For decades, the Hahn family has operated Conestoga Wood Specialties according to Mennonite Christian principles. Of course this has never meant that employees had to be Mennonites.
It means that the family business treats everyone with respect, employees and customers alike. And it means the Hahn Family chooses not to support things that they believe would make them complicit in destroying a human life.
But now, the federal government for the first time ever, is telling Conestoga Wood that they must violate their religious principles. That is why Conestoga has sued the federal government and why Congressman Joe Pitts supports the suit.
Tucked away in the thousands of pages of the Obamacare law are provisions requiring every employer to provide insurance with government-dictated items included, or face a hefty fine. Government bureaucrats used this license to go even farther and order most employers in the U.S. to provide services that can destroy a new human life.
No company can afford to pay the excessive fines that would be levied simply for providing an insurance plan that didn’t include everything the government requires, which for many firms would reach millions of dollars each year. Interestingly, the fine imposed for dropping insurance altogether would cost less. But Conestoga has never believed it should harm its employees by dropping the generous health plan they enjoy, and now the mandate forces the family business to violate its religious beliefs as a result.
When religious dissenters came to Pennsylvania hundreds of years ago, William Penn didn’t restrict them from practicing their faith and running a business. In fact, many of these communities were actively engaged in commerce and used the proceeds to keep their unique religious beliefs alive.
We do not believe that faith has to stop at the church door. It is not something Americans only practice in their homes and worship centers. Faith touches every aspect of our lives and a business like Conestoga Wood would not be the same if Christian values weren’t actively practiced in the marketplace.
In 1993, a Democrat-led Congress and President Bill Clinton worked together to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There was strong bipartisan agreement that Americans’ right to practice their faith in the public square needed additional protections. Conestoga Wood and a like-minded family business, Hobby Lobby, are appealing to the Supreme Court under this decades-old, popular law.
Conestoga wants to continue providing great insurance to its employees. The company doesn’t want them to go through the mess of getting coverage through the dysfunctional and expensive government exchange. The Hahn family is facing a difficult choice that no American should have to make. We hope that the Supreme Court will uphold a basic Pennsylvania value and First Amendment right to religious freedom.