Stephen Kent

One can appreciate the irony that the family, now often portrayed as a relic or obstacle, was recently the key element in a small but important step for religious freedom in the United States.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled June 30 that certain businesses can be exempted, based on their religious objections, from a government requirement to include contraceptives in their employee health insurance coverage.

In its 5-4 ruling, the court said that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two family-run companies that objected to the government mandate that employees be covered for a range of contraceptives, are protected from the requirement under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

David Green, owner of Hobby Lobby, grew the business, making small picture frames, from his kitchen table. It became a $3 billion a year national corporation that now has almost 600 stores.


“Put the emphasis on family dinners several nights a week. Make it a priority.”

The Supreme Court ruled that closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby can be exempt for religious reasons. Green, who is a Pentecostal Christian, and other members of his family are the sole shareholders of Hobby Lobby. Had Green sold stock to the public as he grew his company, he may not have been granted the privilege of carrying his faith into his business.

So family does have some influence in a society that seems to be devaluing it. Granted, billionaires such as those in the Green family are far from typical. But it shows that the family, operating as a unit, can be effective.

The Green family is very close-knit, and religion is the primary focus of their lives.

I was struck during a recent trip to Europe how families still stick together. In some restaurants, the father, mother and their adult children run the entire operation. A small hotel can be managed by the son, mother runs the kitchen, and the children work about the property assisting guests.

Perhaps the United States can’t emulate another society when it comes to family-owned businesses. But it can still work toward family unity by practicing such things as family dinners and family-focused activities.

Too often families give in to the excuse provided by society that a busy, fast-paced life is something that must be accepted. Johnny has soccer. Mary has gymnastics. Family activities are relegated to second place.

Face it: Johnny probably won’t get a college soccer scholarship and his sister likely won’t secure an Olympic berth. So put the emphasis on family dinners several nights a week. Make it a priority.

It was the strength of the family unit that carried a religious freedom issue through an often inhospitable legal system. More religious freedom suits are moving through the courts.

This fall, the Supreme Court will deal with religious nonprofit groups’ objections to the contraceptive mandate in federal health plans. Some commentators say the question facing the high court will be “how much distance from an immoral act is enough?”

Answers to these and other moral questions are developed in the basic unit of the family where values are learned and cherished. And it makes the family far from obsolete.


Kent, retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle, can be contacted at