Why the Hobby Lobby decision is bad for people of faith

FaithFlagsI’ve actually written my responses to all of you folks who participated in Ask Roger Anything this past round. And the rest of you people can STILL ASK.

But I’ve bumped my responses back a couple days to answer Arthur; I even postponed my answer to Arthur’s earlier question, so it’s his own fault. He wrote, in response to this post about the US Supreme Court case regarding a store chain, Hobby Lobby, providing contraceptive care:

I’d really like to see you expand on how YOU see this ruling as bad for people of faith. Do you see this case alone as being bad for religion and/or religious people, or is it the ideology behind it? In either case, what bad effects do you personally expect to see or fear may happen?

The answer is all of the above. Next! OK, I guess I’ll expand on this.

Here’s my preamble: I’m a firm believer in the separation of church and state. (And the graphic on this page REALLY creeps me out, if you were wondering.) The Jehovah’s Witnesses are extraordinarily good at this separation, not saluting the flag, e.g., because they believe their allegiance should only be to God.

But the Witnesses (and I’m not faulting here) are also largely uninvolved in society in a way that is not for me. I think that the job of religion is to try to prod the state to do the right thing – see Martin Luther King, Jr., who never ran for office – but NOT to BE the state. There ought not to be a national religion, and there should not be the establishment of a preferred religion by any individual state.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that latter scenario; Clarence Thomas is flat out wrong. The due process clause of the 14th Amendment applies here. The separation arrangement, I believe, serves the state well, but it is to the betterment of religious institutions also.

I also bristle at the notion of of the United States being founded as a Christian nation, because it sounds like theocracy, where the state and the church are one. This has seldom worked well, as the one entity inevitably compromises the role of the other. I’m thinking monarchs as heads of the church, or ayatollahs controlling the government, e.g. And I won’t even get into the US slavery thing.

Check out this article in the Uncommon God, Common Good blog. Speaking about the recent public prayer case, the writers note: “While many Evangelicals and other Christians hailed the SCOTUS ruling as an example of the protections of religious freedoms, those in minority religions as well as atheists strongly disagreed. For them this was yet another instance of Christian privilege and a denial of equal access to others.”

To the specific question: It’s a lot of issues, most of which others have said.

One point is not dissimilar to my argument against that I made about the proposed Arizona law to discriminate against gays, which was broad enough to justify all sorts of religious exceptions to discriminate if one had Deeply Held Beliefs, including Sharia law.

Of course, Sharia law is the #1 fear of a certain segment of the population that think the Muslim US President is manipulating to bring to America. That potential law would have put the state in the business of determining what a person’s, or for goodness sake, a business’s(!) Deeply Held Beliefs are, which, I will contend, weakens the impact of religion.

There is is an odd dualism about religious bodies. Because religions that have policies that define what their belief systems are, they are allowed to discriminate; a Catholic priest doesn’t have to marry his male parishioner to a female of a different faith, e.g. On the other hand, churches and synagogues and temples, because they have certain tax status bestowed upon them by the state, have at least a suggestion of responsibly to provide services to the community, a function which is not expected of a private firm.

The state, though, ought not to discriminate. (It does, to moneyed interests and the like, but that’s another argument altogether.) The state ought to be providing equal protection under the law, which means not allowing a creation of the state, such as a corporation, to dictate discriminatory policy to the state, and to the public it is supposed to serve.

This is why we rightly celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law said, “I don’t care that you don’t want to have black people on your buses; seat them. Treat people fairly.” It even dictated to private businesses, in terms of hotel accommodations, because those businesses were creation of the state.

Hobby Lobby is not a church, or any other form of religious institution, yet, many will argue, is being treated as though it were one. That cheapens the value of the houses of faith.

Or as the story I originally cited notes:

“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability… Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.โ€œ

Historically, churches have provided sanctuary; Hobby Lobby cannot. There is an understood confidentiality between a person and clergy; talking with the sales clerk at Hobby Lobby, even about deeply personal issues, does not afford the same protection.

Then there’s the false notion that most people of faith actually support the Hobby Lobby ruling, when a “Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey conducted in early June found that a substantial majority of almost every major U.S. Christian group support the idea that publicly-held corporations and privately-owned corporations should be required to provide employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.” So while the ruling may mean “freedom” for a narrow band of religious folks, it runs contrary to the wishes of most people of faith.

On this and many other issues, many Christians, in particular, are tired of being perceived in the mind of the general public as associated with a theological framework that does not represent our beliefs. Some people, probably including you, Arthur, have called on, for lack of a better word, “liberal” Christians to be more vocal.

I dare say some of us feel like we’ve been screaming but not being heard, because much of the mainstream press still uses the shortcut of defining the more “conservative” elements of the church as the totality of the church. They use language such as “faith-based Christians” or “Bible-believing Christians”, as though only a certain segment of us have “real” faith or are informed by The Word. Ticks me off.

So I LOVED this story: Clergy Protest Supreme Court By Handing Out Condoms At Hobby Lobby. And given that SCOTUS has erased buffer zones at Planned Parenthood sites in the past month, this seems an inspired act.

What I fear will happen is already happening. This business wants to exclude drug X for religious reasons, that business wants to exclude drug Y, almost always involving prescriptions taken by women. Often these products, in addition to providing birth control, tend to women’s other medical conditions. So I think this is also an anti-woman decision, which those of us of a certain faith tradition find unacceptable.

Sidebar: read Amy’s poem, Hysterical Women Running Amok.

A person of means in this country inevitably gets better health care than a person without; that has long been true. The IDEA of Obamacare, for all its flaws, is that there would be, if not a level playing field, a more level one. These religious exceptions are negating the equal protection that the state ought to be providing. “Faith” perceived as a force for injustice weakens the church.

(There was a whole WWJD paragraph here I tossed, not because I don’t have an opinion, but because it would lead to the silly season. Would Jesus want Obamacare to cover Plan B contraceptive?)

I do believe that the Jesus I know stood for justice for the poor and the oppressed and the “other”, and that the Christian thing to do is to not let churches, or – I can’t believe I’m writing this – closely-held corporations with Deeply Held Beliefs (as though there could be such things) to dictate a discriminatory policy on the government. It’s bad governance, and it’s bad for religion.

Did this answer the question, at all?
Unrelated to Hobby Lobby, but very related to Christians and justice: Tar Sands: When itโ€™s Hard to Pray in Jesusโ€™ Name: “How do you proclaim your faith, when that faith is culturally aligned with injustice?” In fact, read other pieces from this blog, and from Uncommon God, Common Good, mentioned above.

7 thoughts on “Why the Hobby Lobby decision is bad for people of faith”

  1. You’re starting to touch on the issues that had an awful lot to do with my leaving organized religion, Roger. Good post, as always. Great assortment of links as well.


  2. Many conservative religious people seem to believe that their “faith” gives them some sort of Right to Discriminate against people of other beliefs. This is primitive nonsense; Thou shall not impose thy personal superstitions on others!

    In addition, I’ve recently read a perspective that employment benefits such as insurance and time off are supplements of one’s earned wages, therefore the Hobby Lobby ruling gives the business the power to tell their employees how they may spend their earnings. Would they be able to tell their employees that they may not use vacation time to attend some sort of pagan Spring Festival?

    This ruling strikes me as an extension of the Supreme Theocrat’s Citizens United ruling on corporate personhood, which is obscene nonsense that should be put down in no uncertain terms via a Constitutional Amendment; I have heard many politicians suggesting that, but have yet to see any proposed language for such an amendment.


  3. I see some businesses have already used this precedent to ask the government to let them discriminate against LGBT people in hiring, because of Deeply Held Beliefs. This ruling really kicked open a door.


  4. The Hobby Lobby decision is bad for people. I think you could probably stop right there with a headline.

    Oh, and forget the silly season; the real question is if you’d left the WWJD paragraph in, would you then owe a royalty to Tyler Perry? ๐Ÿ˜‰


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