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.
During 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!