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Hobby Lobby

CAN THIS WEEK’S COURT RULING
BEGIN A CULTURAL REVERSAL?

Odd, the obscure connections we make.

When I first became acquainted with the Hobby Lobby stores, I was put in mind of Charlie Weaver, a saucy rustic character played for decades on radio and TV by the late comic actor Cliff Arquette.

Hobby Lobby LogoDuring the 1959-60 television season, Arquette starred in a weekly show titled “Charlie Weaver’s Hobby Lobby.” It was an adaptation of an earlier radio feature, starting out as a hybrid interview-variety TV series in which Hollywood celebrities revealed their secret, non-showbiz avocations.

Zsa Zsa Gabor once discussed her love of fencing, if you can imagine that. Even less plausibly, the legendary burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee confessed that sport fishing was her passion. Go figure. Perhaps such cognitive disconnects were what accounted for the program’s evolving into a straight variety format renamed “The Charlie Weaver Show.”

All of which makes for an obscure reference to an old TV series hardly anyone remembers, and is apropos of nothing at all. Except that it underscores the absurdly unpredictable nature of life and history.

Who would have expected a chain of craft stores to be the pivot on which turns the future of liberty?

As everyone knows by now (or should know) Hobby Lobby had objected to an Obamacare-related mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that employers must provide coverage of contraception as part of insurance benefit packages. The 600-outlet retailer is owned by an Oklahoma-based family named Green, which also runs the Mardel Christian bookstore chain. The Greens are staunch Evangelicals who saw the mandate as a violation of conscience, since some contraceptive substances and devices are abortifacients (that is, they don’t prevent conception, but rather abort a living embryo). Joined by the Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of Pennsylvania, the Greens sued to defend their right to avoid participation in evil by subsidizing its practice.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The 5-to-4 decision affirmed that closely held companies can be operated in ways that reflect the religious convictions of their owners (even if organized as corporations). The government may not compel them to act in ways that violate the owners’ consciences.

Now, before the “Pro-Choice” choir revs up its famous “WOMEN’S HEALTH” chant, let’s be clear that neither Hobby Lobby, Mardel nor Conestoga had taken any kind of official stand against contraception as such. Neither does the Court ruling say anything about someone’s freedom to obtain birth control products or services.

Contraception was never the issue. Rather, the issue was religious freedom.

What nonbelievers rarely understand is that, for people who are seriously committed to faith, religion isn’t just worship practice but a comprehensive ethic that guides the conduct of their entire lives.

Yes, there are plenty of churchgoers who show up every Sunday yet are able to live the rest of the week in a completely secular way largely uninfluenced by the elevated words they hear from their pastors. This approach to religion is one with which nonbelievers can live quite comfortably. Indeed, it’s what they would see as the very model of a properly balanced faith life…

If you really need some kind of religion to give you comfort or consolation or reassurance or whatever — hey, that’s okey-dokey. Just don’t be a fanatic about it. And don’t bring it up around me or my kids.

The Greens obviously didn’t fit this casualist model. And now the Court has said they don’t have to. Just the opposite, in fact. The message that came down from the bench is that religion is a way of living which government may burden only when there is a public interest at stake more compelling than getting the boss to pay for your Depo-Provera.

Alright, now it’s time for the “WHAT ABOUT POOR WOMEN?” chant.

Well, anyone working for Hobby Lobby presumably has an income. And anyway, contraceptives aren’t all that expensive and can be obtained with assistance from numerous sources (think Planned Parenthood).

As it happens, the very same faith commitment that drove the Greens to oppose the HHS Mandate also inspired them to make their company one of the most generous employers in the retail sector. With all the current hubbub about raising the minimum wage, it’s been quite overlooked that Hobby Lobby has a $14.00-per-hour corporate wage floor — which is 93 percent above the national minimum. Not to mention that, out of respect for the Sabbath, they give all employees Sundays off.

Such Christian virtues aside, those of a secular mindset see this week’s ruling as an open invitation for believers to impose the dogmatic whims of their various denominations on others, no matter how quirky those notions might be.

Don’t panic, there are plenty of other mechanisms by which the law moderates the social impact of religious teachings that conflict with what is generally recognized as the public good. Ask those Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been legally compelled to provide their children with vaccinations and medical treatments forbidden in their tradition.

Which brings us to the third chant: “WELL … WELL … WELL … IT’S JUST WRONG!”…

No employer has the right to intrude into its employees’ intimate personal choices. They can’t arbitrarily place restrictions on expenditures related to sexual practices, regardless of Christian convictions. These are legitimate medical costs, and anyway, if I want birth control, that’s my business!

How ’bout a little perspective on that one? As reported by the website Mad World News

“…the company already covers 16 of the mandated 20 drugs under Obamacare.”

That sound terribly puritanical to you?

The New York Times gives vent to the leftish hysteria which has surrounded the Hobby Lobby Case from its inception and is now being screamed at full voice. In an editorial the Times cited Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “powerful dissent” to the effect that this decision will…

“deny many thousands of women contraceptive coverage vital to their well-being and reproductive freedom. It also invites, she said, other ‘for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.’”

Horse hockey! — at least to the denial of birth control. That’s a lie on its face. Shame on the Times Editorial Board.

As to encouraging other faith-inspired business people to defend their rights — this is a bad thing? The Hobby Lobby Case could in fact be a turning point. And that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

The Supreme Court has clarified a legal principle which, if built upon in the proper way, could begin to roll back some of the more egregious anti-religious impositions people of faith have been enduring.

As I see it, what the Court said, essentially, is that the expectations of a company’s constituency — in this case it’s employees — do not automatically trump the moral scruples of the company’s owners. Might this idea be extended to another constituency: namely a company’s customers?

Would it, for instance, be too great a stretch to assume this principle might be used to defend those poor besieged photographers and cake bakers pressured into servicing gay weddings — in grave defiance their consciences? Am I off the mark here, or does the Hobby Lobby decree contain a potent seed of resistance to the totalitarian assault on faith and freedom which the Gay Movement has become?

I’d like to hear the views of some lawyer on that possibility. Because if I’m not wrong, then I can well imagine a corps of constitutional attorneys and public interest law firms busily at work recrafting their legal briefs to apply this decision in a wide variety of religious liberty cases.

And so it may be that Hobby Lobby, the company, will have a far far more profound cultural impact than Cliff Arquette’s now-forgotten “Hobby Lobby” TV show.

As Zsa Zsa Gabor, bedecked in her fencing gear, might say of that: Touché!

____________

 

AP LogoIf you’ve been incommunicado this week, here’s a link to the Associated Press report on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby Case…

http://apnews.myway.com//article/20140630/us–supreme_court-birth_control-2b5e019d32.html

 

Mad World News LogoHere’s a glimpse into the Green Family’s Christian approach to running their business…

http://madworldnews.com/read-else-hobby-lobby-forces-employees/

 

Washington Times LogoThe Hobby Lobby decision is only the latest in a string of Court reverses which the Obama administration has endured — many by margins of 9-to-0…

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/30/obama-racking-up-judicial-losses/

 

Catholic Vote LogoBut never fear, these heralds of the new secular age remain undaunted. A fresh assault on religious liberty is coming down the pike…

http://www.catholicvote.org/hhs-mandate-just-first-step-here-comes-a-new-attack-on-religious-liberty/

 

New York Times LogoWith friends like The New York Times Editorial Board, they just might pull it off. Here’s the Times’ drumbeat on the Hobby Lobby decision…

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/opinion/the-supreme-court-imposing-religion-on-workers.html?_r=0

 

Wikipedia LogoJust for nostalgia-sake, here’s a link to Wikipedia’s page on Cliff Arquette and his Charlie Weaver character…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliff_Arquette

 

 


7 Comments

  1. Jared says:

    Some of the more flowery language — like your use of the word “evil” as an objective rather than subjective descriptor — aside, I’m in agreement. The freedom to choose the way people live their lives is an important foundation of a liberal pluralist society like ours. Economic efficiency or the real concerns of contraceptive-deprived individuals almost always should take a back seat to verifiably fundamental religious and otherwise moral discomfort.

    • Bill Kassel says:

      It’s common these days for people to shy away from judgmental-sounding terms. But in point of fact, the phrase “participation in evil” is traditional language of Christian moral theology.

  2. Al says:

    This one takes me way back. Right to Life: No abortion, no birth control, and oh yeah no money to support all those kids born into families that can’t afford the essentials for children. Hypocritical SOBs.

  3. Dana says:

    First off, since you’re primary point seems to be freedom of religion (versus the evil of trampling all over women’s rights), let’s talk about that. In her — and it is very telling that the decision was split along gender lines and shows how desperately women need better representation in all branches of our government — dissent, Justice Ginsberg wrote:

    “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

    “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

    So, how would you feel about being denied a blood transfusion, Bill? This might hit home, given your recent healthcare crisis. But if your employer/provider has a serious religious objection, this rationale says, “Screw you! My personal beliefs trump your individual liberty.” And, being much more familiar with birth control pricing than you (I’m betting), let me tell you, it ain’t cheap. It also isn’t easy to get when the radical right wingers are working to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. This is a pretty big problem in rural areas, which incidentally (and not surprisingly) suffer disproportionately from poverty and high teen pregnancy rates.

    On a somewhat related note, I started a conversation on Facebook and am interested in getting someone from the conservative end of the spectrum to chime in and explain the mentality, because I just don’t get it. It started with the question of being pro-life versus pro-birth, which resonates with my experience with conservatives, including those who claim to be compassionate. Here’s the conversation starter:

    “Many of the voices I keep hearing in the so-called pro-life movement are the same voices who denounce the mythical welfare mom and assistance programs for women and children. They deny contraception and access to family planning, but scream to the top of their lungs, ‘You breed ‘em, you feed ‘em!’ They cry foul about ‘paying’ for birth control, but they’re also completely unwilling to foot the bill for prenatal care and pediatric care. They also don’t care for equal pay measures for women (many of whom are working mothers), and don’t even dare to suggest subsidies for childcare to help working mothers.

    “Oh, and abstinence-only sex education, because that has such a great track record for lowering birthrates.

    “From where I’m standing, so-called ‘compassionate conservatives’ only care about humanity in the fetal state. Once you’re born, screw you.

    Supporting the mechanisms that limit unwanted pregnancies in the first place and give women enough security so they are less likely to choose to abort is something both sides should be able to agree upon, assuming there is reason on both sides.”

    Your turn!

    • Further Thoughts from Dana says:

      BTW, here is a link to another part of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent with stats on disproportionate costs of healthcare for women, which includes contraception:

      http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/jul/02/ruth-bader-ginsburg/ruth-bader-ginsburg-dissent-says-women-pay-68-perc/

      Assuming a 40 hour work week, $14/hour = $560/week. Assuming 2 week vacation, that’s $28,000/year before taxes. Reminds me of my graduate school days, only I just had myself and a cat to support, not a family. That officially qualified as dirt poor. Assuming there’s a spouse or partner with the average income for working males between $19K and $55K (associate degree level –
      http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0703.pdf), it’s still well below a decent combined household salary in this day/age/economy. Paying out of pocket for contraception adds up. An employer cherry-picking options puts an undue burden on families. For example, some women can’t tolerate hormone-based birth control and rely on IUDs, which HL refuses to cover.

      As for the argument about courts compelling JWs to submit to lifesaving procedures, I would argue that a ruling from the highest court in the land can and probably will be used as precedent to supersede individual liberty in the name of religion. Precent is key, and this is a very dangerous precedent.

      I’m of the opinion, and I’m not alone, that one’s religious liberty applies to one personally and cannot be forced upon other individuals, otherwise personal liberty is lost. Don’t like contraception? Don’t use it. Don’t agree with abortion? Don’t have one. Trying to deny another their individual rights to choose is something I find morally reprehensible and profoundly un-American.

      • Bill Kassel says:

        Megan McArdle, a columnist for Bloomberg View, has an excellent piece answering many of the questions the Hobby Lobby decision has raised. Her explanations are cogent and insightful (though she ends on a whimsical note). They may help to calm some of the hysteria being whipped up by folks on the left (that is, those who want their hysteria calmed). They’re also filled with common sense. An example…

        “Why is it any of my employer’s business what birth control I use?”

        “It’s not, but once you make them pay for it, you make them a party to the transaction. You can’t, on the one hand, mandate that someone pay for something, and on the other argue that it is a matter of supreme indifference to them.”

        I urge you to check out the piece at…

        http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-07-02/answers-to-all-your-hobby-lobby-questions

        • Dana says:

          So, is what you eat your employer’s business? By that logic, why yes, it is, since their health insurance package covers diabetes and cholesterol meds. How about if you don’t exercise or if you choose to smoke? Treatments for cancer and other diseases caused by arguably poor life choices are also covered. What about stents or heart surgeries — why should they pay when their selfish, mooching employees could have cut back on the bacon and burgers? Do corporations get a pass on that?

          No, they don’t.

          So they don’t get a pass for female reproductive health, which is disproportionately targeted here. They’re happy to cover vasectomies (and if every sperm is indeed sacred, then how is that different?), erectile dysfunction pills — kind of reminds me of Rush Limbaugh’s diatribe on ‘paying for women to have sex,’ only in this case, it seems we’re subsidizing … [colorful metaphor referring to male genitalia]. But again, this is about healthcare. If coverage is good for the gander, it should certainly be good for the goose and employers shouldn’t be interfering with it.

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