December 2013
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A business is a business is a business

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Once upon a time, a man applied for a job. He was a good worker, had mouths to feed, and just wanted to earn a paycheck.

Thing is, he was a Christian and all of the businesses were owned by Muslims. They would not hire him, because although their companies were entirely secular, it went against the personal beliefs of the owners to in any way help the “infidel,” who, with a roof over his head and food in his belly, might use some of his pay to support Christian causes.

Outraged, the Christian job-seeker brought up the law, the federal one that prohibits such rank discrimination. To his shock, the company owners said it didn’t matter, that their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion trumped any consideration for him and that the government, by ordering them to hire non-Muslims, was violating that right.

But a bigger shock awaited: While one court agreed with him, in the next town over, a Muslim woman seeking a job at a store owned by a Christian experienced the same discrimination. In her case, the court sided with the employer, who had argued that his religion holds that women should not work outside the home and so, his company should be exempt from laws against sexual discrimination.

I admit what you doubtless have already worked out: The above are hypothetical situations. They are hyperbolic as well. It’s just that if you don’t want to see them become reality, you probably ought to join me in hoping that the Supreme Court does not side with Hobby Lobby.

The craft-retail giant continues fighting the socalled birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Religious institutions and churches have been given leeway on the mandate. Hobby Lobby’s Christian owners are laying claim to a similar exemptions: Providing no-cost coverage for certain types of birthcontrol forces owner David Green and his family to violate their religious beliefs concerning abortion; therefore, Hobby Lobby’s First Amendment rights are being trampled.

To reiterate what I said in a February column: Hobby Lobby is a business (where I shop with reckless abandon, when I have the chance). It is not a church. It is not a religious institution. It is a for-profit business that must follow a host of laws every single day at every single store. The Affordable Care Act is just that — a law. A flawed law, yes, and its contraception provision does raise a fair question: if reproductive choice is a personal matter, why should its funding be public?

Hobby Lobby owner David Green seems to be arguing that his religious liberty is threatened if his for-profit enterprise is made to comply with the birth-control mandate. It is not. Green and his family remain free to exercise their religious beliefs. Taking Green’s argument to the logical extreme, Hobby Lobby could technically argue against paying a wage to people who use the types of birth-control that he incorrectly believes to be abortifacents: The employee might, after all, use some of her pay to buy the product, thus “unfairly” forcing Green to subsidize something that is against his beliefs.

Green is, again, free to adopt the belief system of his choice. What he is not free to do is force others to live by those beliefs and then whine about the government interfering with his private convictions. It is difficult to feel sympathy for people who are so blissfully unaware of irony.

Predictably, the Right Wing echo chamber is missing the point. Instead of focusing narrowly on the facts that, A. Hobby Lobby is a business and B., companies don’t get to pick and choose what laws to obey, the chamber rings loud with praise for this latest freedom fighter against evil in the “war” on religion.

In the Washington Times, Ernest Istook hails the Hobby Lobby case as one that could (per the headline) “thwart Obamacare’s benefits for casual sex.” (Because only whores use birth control; got it!) After raising a legitimate point — should your contraception really be your boss’ responsibility? — Istook then takes a breathtaking plunge into the deeper end of the conspiracy theory pool, painting the birth-control mandate as part of a sinister plot to edge out family values via the “sexual liberation agenda.”

I don’t believe Mr. Green would go that far. He is opposed to a few forms of birth control he believes cause abortions, and not all contraception. I regret that his case has brought out such lunacy in others, frankly. It’s just that — again, again, ad nauseum, again — the law is the law, and Hobby Lobby is a for-profit business. It is not a church. It is not a religion. It is not a religious institution. It. Is. A. Business.

That is what the Supreme Court will be weighing, as well as trying to balance competing rulings from two circuit courts. Per the New York Times: The 10th Circuit found that Hobby Lobby is a “person” whose religious beliefs are affected by the mandate. By contrast, the 3rd Circuit found that Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, owned by Mennonites who also object to the mandate, is a for-profit entity, incapable of religious exercise. The two courts also viewed the precedent set by the disastrous Citizens United ruling in completely different ways. The 10th found that Citizens United — which erroneously held that corporations have free speech rights — also applies to freedom of religion as is protected by the First Amendment.

I will believe that Hobby Lobby is a person capable of religious exercise the day I see its brick and mortar stores trundling down the road to attend church, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, or going on a mission to the Third World. I will believe corporations are people when banks start being jailed. I do not see Hobby Lobby’s owner as a victim. I do not see him as a crusader. I see in his case something truly dangerous: the idea that certain people (business owners) should be allowed to directly tailor the laws to their liking. (We already have such indirect tailoring; it is called lobbying, and it is bad enough.) I also see potential for extreme abuse, as corporate owners unlike the sincere Green suddenly find “religion” every time a rule they don’t like crops up.

I hope the Supreme Court sees the Hobby Lobby case my way. Failing that, I hope Congress sees the wisdom of rectifying the Citizens United decision through commonsense legislation.

I am not optimistic.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.


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