05 April 2013

Why I Don't Feel Sorry For Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby, in case you don't know, is a large, popular, and successful family-owned craft-store chain. The corporation is owned by the Green family, conservative evangelical Christians. They conduct their business in accordance with their faith. For example, Hobby Lobby closes its 525 stores every Sunday so its employees can observe a Christian day of rest. It is also known to donate generously to conservative institutions and causes and, according to the New York Times, to use stickers to cover up Botticelli's naked Venus in the art books it sells. (I don't think the problem is that Venus is a pagan goddess; I think the problem is that Venus is naked. The human body in its natural state is sinful to behold.)

Such is Hobby Lobby's strong identification with conservative Christianity that it made headlines recently by suing the Obama administration for forcing it to comply with the federal health care law. That law requires employers to provide comprehensive health coverage for women, including contraception, pregnancy termination, and maternity care. The law requires the provision, when needed, of the so-called "morning-after pill," a drug given to women after unprotected sex or rape to prevent pregnancy. The "morning-after pill" is controversial because it hovers in that gray area somewhere between contraception and abortion: it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting and giving rise to a full-blown pregnancy.

Hobby Lobby is opposed to the use of the "morning-after pill" in all circumstances, on religious grounds. It believes that, because of its beliefs, it should not be forced to pay for insurance that covers such medication. (Purely religious organizations, like churches and synagogues, are exempt from the federal healthcare law. Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business, is not.)

The company sued the Obama administration and lost, and now it is threatening to close its doors rather than comply with the law. The story has generated a great deal of sympathy in the religious and secular press. What does a religious business do when the secular law requires it to do something against its beliefs?

Now, I am not disputing that the Green family and its corporation have every right in the world to oppose the use of contraception or any other medical or quasi-medical procedure. That right is absolutely protected under the Federal Constitution. I am also not going to argue the ethics of abortion, contraception, or anything related to those issues in this space. (I do have opinions about these things, but I'd need a lot more room to elaborate on them than I have here.)

What I am going to say is this: the price of running a successful business in a secular society is compliance with the secular laws. Hobby Lobby is not a purely religious organization. It is a for-profit business.  It makes an enormous amount of money selling craft supplies to American consumers. It does not - cannot, by law - turn shoppers away at the door on the basis of religious beliefs. It willingly takes money from sewing Christians, scrapbooking Jews, knitting Muslims, crocheting Buddhists, and flower-arranging atheists. To make its business successful, it also employs all those people (in fact, by law, it cannot deny employment to people on the basis of their religious beliefs or lack thereof).

And yet Hobby Lobby wants to have things both ways. It wants to have its money and enforce its beliefs too.

That's not how things work in America. In America, if you don't like the law for religious or other reasons, you are not allowed to simply ignore it or claim it shouldn't apply to you. There are as many different religious and ethical beliefs in this nation as there are people. Imagine the chaos if everyone claimed a religious exemption from the laws they oppose. What we do here, instead, is vote our conscience. Elect representatives who support the laws of which you approve and oppose those of which you don't. Use that money you make in your incredibly successful business to fund campaigns, raise public awareness of your cause, buy ads in newspapers. That, ladies and gentlemen, is entirely legal in this nation. The Supreme Court has said so.

If you are opposed to contraception and abortion, you are allowed to say so from the tops of the tallest buildings. You can demonstrate. You can pray. You can post away on Facebook and Twitter. You can run clinics that provide alternative care to women in crisis. You can educate young men about the consequences of sex, sexual aggression, and the law of consent. You can invest in education to lessen the need for such things. But you cannot disobey the law. The elected officials of this country have ratified a law that says that women employees are entitled to comprehensive health care coverage. Throw the bums out if you don't like it. But until you do, you must obey the law.

Running a church is not usually a profitable business. Trust me - I'm a preacher's kid, and I was raised on a preacher's wages. We had what we needed, and we lived by our principles, but we were not wealthy by any means.

Accumulating great wealth in our society is a tradeoff, and if you wish to do so, you need to play by the rules. That's the fabric of our society. It is the fiber of our being. It's the glue that holds us together, and what I've been needling you about. You can't put a varnish - oh, never mind. You cannot be a slave to two masters. And that is why I don't feel sorry for Hobby Lobby.

[Just after I published this post, I became aware of this ruling by a federal district court concerning the availability of morning-after pills to young women. Just thought I'd include the link in case you are interested in the subject. Who's not? It's a complex and fascinating issue. - jba]

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