Federal Judge Uses Hobby Lobby To Excuse Testimony In Child Labor Case

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Samuel Alito, right, and Antonin Scalia after a panel discussion on "Judicial Independence" at the Italian American Foundation Convention in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006.... U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Samuel Alito, right, and Antonin Scalia after a panel discussion on "Judicial Independence" at the Italian American Foundation Convention in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

A federal judge in Utah has ruled that a member of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon faith may refuse to answer questions in a child labor investigation as a result of the Hobby Lobby ruling on birth control.

The Sept. 11 decision by U.S. District Court Judge David Sam says Vergel Steed, who belongs to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), doesn’t have to comply with a federal subpoena because naming church leaders would violate his religious freedom.

As the basis for his conclusion, the judge cited Hobby Lobby decisions by the Supreme Court and 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act shields people from having to obey laws that substantially burden their religious practices.

“It is not for the Court to ‘inquir[e] into the theological merit of the belief in question’,” Sam wrote, citing Hobby Lobby. “The Court’s ‘only task is to determine whether the claimant’s belief is sincere, and if so, whether the government has applied substantial pressure on the claimant to violate that belief.'”

The judge was referring to the 1993 statute, which says laws that violate religious liberty be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest. The Supreme Court interpreted that law broadly by a 5-4 majority in Hobby Lobby when it said owners of closely held corporations may opt out of a law requiring coverage of contraceptives in their insurance plans.

“[I]t is clear that Mr. Steed has raised the very defenses available under RFRA,” Sam wrote in his ruling, arguing that the government did not use the “least-restrictive means” to get what it wanted. The judge said the government may instead acquire the information it seeks about FLDS and Paragon Contractors, which are implicated in a 2012 incident involving children working in a field, by speaking to others “who contracted to manage the pecan ranch.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of UC-Irvine School of Law, said Sam’s decision reveals the pitfalls of Hobby Lobby, calling it “stunning” and contrary to precedent for a judge to use RFRA to let a person get out of testifying.

“I think it is quite predictable that the court’s decision in Hobby Lobby would open the door to such claims of an exemption from laws for religious reasons,” he said. “I fear it is just the start of cases of people claiming religious exemptions from general laws.”

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, said the ruling shows how “Hobby Lobby threatens to make religious believers a law unto themselves.”

In her written dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that the Court, in Hobby Lobby, had “ventured into a minefield.”

Perez v. Paragon Contractors

Latest DC

Notable Replies

  1. And awwaaaaaaaay we go!

  2. We’re living in Mitt Romney’s America in spite of him losing the election.

  3. Avatar for marby marby says:

    Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s words get proved true again!

  4. Republicans finally find a way to protect American jobs.

  5. There’s nothing to worry about. The SCOTUS knew exactly what they were doing with Hobby Lobby. Religious exemptions are required…provided they’re for the right religions (ie. Mormons, Jews, Hindus, etc. need not apply).

    As to the cognitive dissonance of that position with the separation of church and state?

    No comment from the court.

Continue the discussion at forums.talkingpointsmemo.com

114 more replies


Avatar for alphadad Avatar for paulw Avatar for sandi Avatar for runfastandwin Avatar for austin_dave Avatar for darrius Avatar for ncsteve Avatar for asanders91360 Avatar for Mitch Avatar for joan59 Avatar for thepsyker Avatar for tetrisd Avatar for dd40 Avatar for egyptsteve Avatar for daveyjones64 Avatar for tamdai Avatar for pippenpippen Avatar for jeffrey Avatar for khaaannn Avatar for smokinthegotp Avatar for occamsrazor2 Avatar for tsp Avatar for jim3k Avatar for 62fender

Continue Discussion
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: