What they get, though, is not immunity. Instead, they have been required to certify their religious objection and, if necessary, prove that it is sincere. Then they have been required to perform alternate service—working in a hospital, for example, or in a national park—to aid the nation’s survival in ways that do not involve personally killing. It is a compromise between conscience and the collective.
By analogy to the Little Sisters claim, however, truly devout conscientious objectors wouldn't be required to perform any service—since, of course, any service would contribute to the country that's at war. In fact, they would refuse to request an exemption; even filling out the form would make them complicit.
The assumption seems to be that religion releases you from any obligation of any kind to the state. And that’s apparently even true if you are a giant for-profit corporation.
I do not question that the nuns, and the Green family, are sincere. But why are they the only ones whose interest matter? These cases involve the government and the employees covered by the Act. Their interests should count, too.
In the case of the Little Sisters, government has a clear interest in keeping track of which organizations claim exemptions and making sure those claims are genuine. What judge, until recently, would have thought that interest illegitimate?
In Hobby Lobby in particular, the government has a powerful interest in making sure that its comprehensive insurance scheme provides uniform opportunities to all employees in commerce. That interest can sometimes overcome even the most sincere religious objection. In 1964, many people had sincere religious beliefs that African Americans and whites should not mix in restaurants, stores, and hotels—that this violated the words of Acts 17:26 that God had fixed boundaries for the nations of man and expected them to remain within them. (There are sincere believers of this idea even today within the so-called “British Israel” and “Christian Identity” sects.)
The Civil Rights Act did not demand that these people change their beliefs. It did not demand that they desegregate their churches, or open their homes. But it did embody a judgment by society that, in order to engage in business, they had open their businesses to all.
The same kind of governmental interest is present in the contraceptive-mandate cases: If you want to engage in interstate commerce, cover your employees. The peoples’ representatives have determined that both public health and the economy will function better if you do.
And that brings in the employees’ interests: first, in making their own health choices from a full range of options; second, in earning full benefits for their work, whether they are men or women; and finally—this one seems to be mentioned by almost no one—in their own religious liberty. For most of us, choices about contraception arise from our own consciences. In a free country, the boss doesn’t collect the employees’ beliefs at the workplace door.