Edwin Lee was a Pennsylvania Amish farmer and carpenter. God smiled on his labors, and he hired fellow Amish to work on his farm and in his shop. Naturally he paid them—after all, Scripture tells us that the laborer is worthy of his hire. But beginning in 1970, Lee refused to pay the Social Security payroll tax on his workers' wages the government said he owed. Amish do not believe in social insurance, based on language in Paul’s First Letter to Timothy: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
The Internal Revenue Service took a different view, and in 1981 Lee’s case ended up in front of the United States Supreme Court.
If the current Court concerns itself with precedent (which I have come to doubt), United States v. Lee should play a large role in the deliberations over Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius—the cases, to be argued March 25, that will decide whether for-profit corporations can exempt themselves on religious grounds from the contraceptive-coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
That’s because the Court decided that the requirement that making Lee pay payroll tax for his workers was a “burden” on his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment—in fact, that paying the tax was “forbidden by the Amish faith,” and that mandatory payment “interferes with their free exercise rights.” (Congress had tried to accommodate the Amish by providing in the statute that self-employed Amish did not have to pay Social Security tax, but Lee and other Amish also wanted an exemption from paying taxes on workers they hired.)