Sincerity and Religious Belief in Hobby Lobby

By Nadia N. Sawicki

Courts evaluating First Amendment and RFRA claims have long held that they are in no position to evaluate the validity, centrality, or reasonableness of a claimant’s sincere religious beliefs. And while there is room for courts to evaluate whether a claimant’s beliefs are indeed “sincere,” many courts shy away from doing so because of a perceived overlap between judgments about centrality and about sincerity.

In Hobby Lobby, the sincerity of the corporation’s beliefs was not in dispute. Hobby Lobby asserted (and HHS accepted the claim) that it had a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception, and that this belief prohibited it from facilitating access to contraceptives that operate after that point.

But recent news reports have shown that Hobby Lobby has, in fact, been involved in activities that seemingly run afoul of this belief – including investing in pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the contraceptives they raise objections to in their lawsuit, as well as drugs commonly used for abortion; investing in insurance companies that cover abortion and emergency contraceptives; and actually providing coverage for emergency contraception in their own health plan until 2012.

While these facts were not raised before the courts hearing Hobby Lobby’s RFRA claims, First Amendment precedent suggests that they would be relevant to a judgment about the sincerity of Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs. Surely a company that believes life begins at conception would have more difficulty demonstrating the sincerity of its beliefs when some of its conduct supports activities that are in direct opposition to this stated belief. This is not to say that a court would ultimately conclude that Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs were insincere – but rather, that a court could legitimately consider these facts without treading into the dangerous territory of judging the merits and centrality of Hobby Lobby’s beliefs to the exercise of its faith.

Nadia Sawicki

Nadia Sawicki

Nadia N. Sawicki is a Georgia Reithal Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago, and Academic Director of Loyola’s Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy. Her research focuses on patient decision-making and the informed consent process, particularly in the areas of end-of-life and reproductive care. Her work has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals - including the New England Journal of Medicine; Law & Policy; the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics; the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics; the Journal of Clinical Ethics; the American Journal of Bioethics; and the Journal of Legal Medicine – as well as in many academic legal journals. She has previously served as a member of the American Bar Association’s Special Committee on Bioethics and the Law, and was the co-chair of the American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities’ Law Affinity Group. Prof. Sawicki received her J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School, and her Masters in Bioethics from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She is a graduate of Brown University, with a concentration in biomedical ethics. Prior to joining the Loyola faculty, Prof. Sawicki held the inaugural George Sharswood Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, served as a lecturer in History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences, practiced law with Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, and clerked for the Honorable J. Curtis Joyner of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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