Discussing
Hobby Lobby’s high horse

Josh Larsen

Josh Larsen
March 23, 2014

Religious freedom shouldn't put an onus on others, which is what Hobby Lobby would do if it denied employees access to reproductive health services.

Marta L.
March 23, 2014

Josh, I want to thank you for this. Even if I wasn't in basic agreement with you (and politically I'm primed to agree with your position), I would still be very heartened to see Christian voices reaching past the surface issues at play here and looking at the more nuanced questions informed by this case. Reading this really encouraged me.

Micheal Hickerson
March 24, 2014

But by closing on Sundays, isn't Hobby Lobby denying its low-income employees the opportunity to earn additional money? Closing its business for 1/7 of the week is a much greater financial burden on Hobby Lobby's employees than not providing birth control.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 24, 2014

Hmm. Not sure about that, Micheal. I guess it depends on how Hobby Lobby schedules its employees; presumably, with six days of business an individual employee could still work 40 hours in a week.

You do raise the issue - an important one - that most of Hobby Lobby's employees are working for something close to the minimum wage, I expect. Which for the purposes of my piece means that many of their female employees would fall into the low-income group of women for whom access to reproductive health services is an important public health issue.

Alvw
March 24, 2014

Thank you for thoughtful Christian dialogue on this subject. I really appreciate the phrasing of "coercive childbearing" used in the statement of faith you include in this piece. There should be no room for coercion in faith, faithful lives and bringing others to faith. Put simply, if this type of coercion were a part of my daughter's relationship it would be unacceptable to us as Christian parents and I believe we ought to standby the same on a societal level.
Secondly, the birth control covered by the law is critical to the medical treatment of diseases related to the female reproductive system. To deny access to these treatment options seems unconscionable. For women living with these diseases, this has nothing to do with pregnancy, but amounts to denial of healthcare. In the case of pregnancy, I think we need to stop romanticizing pregnancy. It is a beautiful, miraculous gift of God. But is also a medically risky prospect. It's often hard on a women's body and there are a multitude of risks involved. Those risks all along the way are part of the public health concern. And this is sharper for those with higher health risks to start with which is often the case for lower income individuals eeking out a living working in retail (probably minimum wage). I am curious as to the type of benefits Hobby Lobby offers to employees regarding parental leave and sick leave and flex time--all necessary to raising a family while working. There is a cost to pregnancy (desired and not) both individually and corporately.
Lastly, the distinction between availability and obligation made clear in the Affordable Care Act and the statement of faith is important and speaks loudly and clearly to the religious freedom concerns.

EricT
March 24, 2014

I agree, and add that Hobby Lobby got on a high horse the minute it filed the law suit because of the notable hypocrisy involved. HL not only previously covered two of the four contraceptives they now say they find objectionable. HL also owns a business in China and has since 1999.

That means they've been paying taxes to a government that provides abortion services to its citizens, and they've been contributing to their employees health insurance plans, which cover contraception. And guess the most popular form of contraception in China? Among married women, the IUD. Among single women, the "morning after pill" has also grown more common over the last decade.

Marie Cass
March 24, 2014

Are employees really being denied basic healthcare by having to pay for their own contraception? I have an individual insurance policy and paid $45/month for birth control for several years as contraception wasn't covered. Even when I was a single mom, never once did I think someone else should be paying that for me. Even though contraception is now covered in my plan, I still pay $38/month. Additionally, uninsured or low income women can always go to their local county health clinic and receive FREE contraception.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 24, 2014

Thanks for sharing how your past experiences have shaped your view on this, Marie. As a onetime single mom, would you say that having to arrange for a separate health plan or visit a county clinic for reproductive health services would be a hardship for single mothers? If not, then I can understand your position. But even as a married father, I appreciate both the convenience and level of care my children and I receive by being on one plan and being able to work with a small number of doctors and offices (something we receive via our work health plan). I guess the point I'm trying to make in the piece is that I don't see the Christian virtue, as an employer, of putting women through any level of hardship in terms of receiving reproductive health services simply because some of those services conflict with my religious beliefs.

Luke Wynja
March 24, 2014

Josh,

Curious if you were aware that Hobby Lobby starts its base full time employees at $14-15 an hour unlike wal-mart and other such stores. They really are Christians that try to treat their employees well. They also are not making it difficult at all for anyone to get contraception, on the contrary, their health plan provides free access to it. Their objection is only to forms of birth control that can prevent implantation (IUD's) or that would abort a newly implanted embryo. Whether they have a strong argument on IUD's or not, surely as a Christian you do not favor a Christian employer having to provide access to drugs that abort unborn children? While you may not appreciate their critique of an IUD, surely you can at least understand where they are coming from on the issue of abortion. I think that the burden of knowing that you are paying for the murder of unborn children is not a cost of discipleship that any Christian should have to bear.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 24, 2014

I wasn't aware of Hobby Lobby's base pay rate, Luke; that speaks well of the company if $14-$15 for full-time employees is the case.

I do understand that it's more than, say, condoms that Hobby Lobby's owners object to. (As you say, it's IUDs or, as I stated in the second paragraph, "drugs that would prevent human embryos from being implanted in a woman's womb.") For me, this makes the issue considerably thornier. Yet I still believe that the way for Christians to counter the reality of something like abortion - if they feel called to do so - is through the sort of empathy and support discussed in this earlier TC article rather than prioritizing personal beliefs over general public health.

Luke Wynja
March 25, 2014

Josh,

Thanks for your response. I guess my ongoing question or thinking is to say that if I am standing on personal beliefs, then I cannot prioritize them over anything else. But, out of sympathy for the owners of Hobby Lobby, I don't think that they see this as a matter of "personal belief." They clearly see this as a matter of standing for what the Bible teaches regarding life. So from their perspective, they would change "personal belief" in the last sentence of your response to "Biblical Truth". Which would then read "Rather than prioritizing biblical truth over general public health." which seems to at least help to see that for them the stakes are higher than if this is just a personal belief, - they believe that they would be going against God's word - which we can agree a Christian should never do. The owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, are adoptive parents, and the huge amount of money they give to charities like city rescue mission (cityrescue.org) speaks volumes about the fact that they are people who are deeply compassionate and seek to give empathy and support to those in need. They say the greatest misconception (to quote Mr. Green) “is that we are trying to impose our religion on these workers or others. Not at all! That would violate our religion to do that.” I think for them it is both/and... they seek to stand on what they believe the Bible says and also are compassionate and concerned about general public health and their employees. This issue aside, wouldn't it be great if there were more business owners like the Green's that gave above average wages and benefits, (BTW - not sure if you have run into the fact that not all types of birth control are covered by the ACA - but most are - Not all types of birth control are covered by Hobby Lobby - but most are...), and that really cared about their employees. It is worth mentioning that businesses like Hobby Lobby are, from a Christian perspective, to be commended for all the moral good that they do.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 25, 2014

Just to be clear, Luke, I don't mean for this piece to be a referendum on the Green family's faith. Rather, I mean to use their case as a way to think differently about religious freedom and how it's exercised.

Richard Reeb
March 25, 2014

Is it ok for the government to force you to do something that you believe to violate your religious code? Pacifists have avoided military service for this reason. This isn't complicated people. Just because one owns a business you can't be stripped of your rights. Fundamental religious freedom question. Nuanced shumanced. Wake up people, it's why people fled Europe and other places to come here. To keep the "enlightened" elite from cramming their beliefs down our throats.

Erica Schemper
March 25, 2014

I'm disturbed by the implication that abortion is a litmus test for Christian faith, and even more so by the idea that something like an IUD (because it impedes implantation) is also a litmus test for Christian faith. While I find that my Christian faith guides me to the conclusion that abortion should be incredibly rare, I also wonder if our most effective approach is to try and legislate what is honestly, often, a very difficult moral conundrum for people. Meanwhile, the evidence for life beginning at fertilization isn't convincing to me. Conception is a magnificent and complicated process. But most of all, I know people who are sincere, thoughtful, Biblical Christians, and also happen to be pro-choice. I would rather we give these brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt about their sincerity of faith than turn abortion into the issue by which we define Christian faith.

Bethany Goodman
March 26, 2014

Josh, I appreciate that your being thoughtful about this and willing to dialogue but I am getting frustrated by the Christian voices who are essentially making fun of Hobby Lobby and accusing them of being on a "high horse" You in fact, call their views "Scripturally tenuous ones". Look, I am a 20 something female, and I don't oppose most types of contraception. However, I cannot ignore science - that life begins at conception (check out the Endowment for Human Development) and that certain drugs and devices (the 4 that the Hahns and Greens object to) can cause early abortions: http://www.lozierinstitute.org/emergencycontraceptives/. Side note - less and less late term abortions are happening (praise God) and the real debate on abortion will be with chemical abortions that are happening at earlier and early stages, so this dialogue is going to continue.

I would LOVE to start my own business one day - so do you really mean to tell me that I should participate in/pay for/encourage something that I believe absolutely contradicts my conscience (murder of unborn babies)?

I think everyone keeps missing the point to, that the government has to show "compelling interest" that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood must comply with this mandate. For instance, if they were making claims of religious liberty to not provide health care at all, or not hire women, or insert another ridiculous example, of course that wouldn't fly and would violate various anti-discrimination laws. However, when these drugs can be picked up at Wal Mart, CVS, Walgreen, etc it doesn't quite seem as much like a "violation of women's rights" for the company to not provide it, does it?

I also was going to point out that Hobby Lobby pays much more than the minimum wage, but I see someone else did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=empZxxB19nU&feature=youtu.be.

Now maybe we can continue to disagree on this particular issue, but can't we agree that believers, and people in general, must answer to their own conscience?

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 26, 2014

Certainly we can agree on that last point, Bethany. Now, does answering to our own conscience require restricting/complicating health services for the employees of a business we operate in a pluralistic society? I'd say no.

Bethany Goodman
March 26, 2014

One other thing I'd like to add - while this case has the specifics of an Evangelical and Mennonite family and their religious faith - it is about conscience. Do not all CEO's have some sort of belief system or conscience?

What if the government in the future amended the ACA, that every health plan must include a diet of red meat because the population needs more protein. Would not a Vegan-owned business object to that? (I just googled Vegan businesses, and apparently there are many! Would not those employees be able to get their meat intake elsewhere, easily? So why can't the Vegan business owner be allowed to "obey his conscience"

That's why the Pilgrims came to the new world! I recently visited the Jefferson Memorial and was struck by one of his quotes:
"Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man...shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."

Everything about these families faith has informed how they started their business - if I am blessed with that opportunity in the future, it will be the same for me. You say, "By seeking to deny its employees the opportunity to exercise their own religious freedom, Hobby Lobby’s owners are elevating their personal beliefs above a “moral good” for society at large." Hobby Lobby has given their employees jobs! God bless them for creating jobs and giving men and women the ability to work, have dignity, and provide for their families! A job is not a divine right, nor is a health plan that covers a drug that will kill a baby.

Mann
March 28, 2014

I appreciate the effort to think through this in a unique way. However, I don't find this argument convincing. Hobby Lobby is not restricting access to birth control; the access is present in society. They are asking to not be forced to pay for 4 types of ~20 listed in ACA. They willingly pay for the other methods, and some of the ones which they refuse to pay on issue of conscience are available over the counter. Assuming I understand the case right. Employment Benefits are not a right - they are a benefit. Like many do in the workforce, if you do not like your company's benefit offerings (moral, amoral, immoral), you can choose to work somewhere else with superior benefits.

Marie Cass
March 28, 2014

Thanks for the reply, Josh. In response to your question I first want to clarify, by individual plan I mean that my family does not have an employer sponsored plan. We are not part of a group plan. Secondly, I would say in my experience it is extremely easy to receive contraceptives at a local government clinic. You don't even have to show proof of low income at the clinic in my county. If I'm not mistaken, the crux of the issue is that the owners of Hobby Lobby do not want to violate their conscience by being forced to help pay for abortifacients (required under the Employer Shared Responsibility mandate of Obamacare), and they shouldn't have to. Jay Sekulow from the American Center for Law and Justice posted an excellent commentary on Facebook today regarding this issue. I highly recommend checking it out. God bless.

Lostmartian
March 31, 2014

wow, you people are really missing the point and are misinformed. the Affordable health care act also requires Hobby Lobby to fund abortions, not just contraceptions. where did anybody get the idea that Hobby Lobby does not care about the health of women? Christians do care about women and their reproductive health? But should not we as christians consult the bible and our church's doctrines. I did not hear enough about what Jesus's will is? Instead I heard about economy, hobby lobby's wages and the needs of the woman's health.
I have a better idea. Maybe women should control their sexuality and wait until they are married. I thougth that premarital sex was forbidden in the bible?

the real issues, are how effective is contraceptions. Many in the catholic church have found that some contraceptions are unhealthy and dangerous long term to the women, and abortion is an issue that is in Obamacare. Get informed please, people.

Deb Neuville Bouché
May 20, 2014

I don't agree that opposing contraceptive compliance is usurping another's religious belief, but I do contend that we can't control what others will do with their freedom. e.g. If they use their salary to get drunk, do drugs, or pay for an abortion, is Hobby Lobby complicit, and should they not pay that employee to keep them from sinning? Certainly we MUST pray for those God places in our life, but we also must extend Christ's love even in the midst of sin, as He did. Government is forcing its 'beliefs' on the taxpayers, and so Hobby Lobby is forced to 'find a way' around the law to uphold their beliefs. That should help them see that forcing anyone to abide by another's belief is counterproductive. Belief must be accepted from the heart, or one will defiantly find another way to do what intend to do.

Norm
June 27, 2014

I disagree with you Josh.
Hobby Lobby is not seeking to deny its employees the opportunity to exercise their own religious freedom. What Hobby Lobby is seeking to do is to not fund a practice that they see as sinful. There is nothing stopping those employees from finding some other means to pay for their choices. Just because they may not be able to pay for something that Hobby Lobby sees as sinful does not mean that Hobby Lobby should be required to pay for it. What about Hobby Lobby's right to practice it's religious freedom?
As for the religious leaders statement.
Christ made it clear that it was better for a mill stone to be hung around the neck and one cast in the sea than to hurt a child. The Jews knowledgeable of the Old Testament understood that he meant all children, inside and outside of the womb.

Stubble
July 1, 2014

"By seeking to deny its employees the opportunity to exercise their own religious freedom, Hobby Lobby’s owners are elevating their personal beliefs (Scripturally tenuous ones, I might add) above a “moral good” for society at large. In a pluralistic setting, that’s sitting on an awfully high horse."

Interesting to see this article brought back.

This seems a bit of a stretch. I'm not interested in "defending" Hobby Lobby, but I am concerned about the way Christians seem to over-hype, over-state, and over-react to things right along with the mainstream media.

HL has always provided birth control, and will continue to provide it. I don't think that not covering one specific type of birth control, when they're already covering other types, is really "denying" their employee's religious freedom. High horse, maybe.

Can Christians stop relying on extreme hyperbole to make our points? It's practically dishonesty and slander.

(See what I did there?)

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
July 1, 2014

Hi Stubble,

You may consider it hyperbole, but I'm really just taking Hobby Lobby's broad definition of religious freedom and applying it to its employees (who are, after all, actual people). If a Hobby Lobby employee's religious beliefs (even Christian beliefs) allow for the use of the contraception in question, and then Hobby Lobby pursues a Supreme Court case to alter a law that has previously provided for that form of contraception, I think it's reasonable to consider that to be a case of an institution infringing on an individual's religious freedom.

ProLifeChristian
July 2, 2014

I wouldn't say it's Scripturally tenuous to oppose the destruction of innocent human life. The protection of children, regardless of the extent of their development, race, gender, sexual orientation, and physical and/or mental capabilities, is compatible with Christian tenets.

Hobby Lobby is a private corporation which subscribes to its own set of religious beliefs. It is under no obligation to provide any particular service to its employees. Furthermore, all human life is sacred, and furnishing abortive pills poses a threat to the preservation of such life. I'm not here to defend Hobby Lobby, since they fund abortions through their 401(k) plans, but it needs to be made clear that a private entity does not have to satisfy the "wants" of all of its employees; it has every right to adhere to particular religious beliefs, as long as such beliefs do not infringe upon the lives, liberties, or property of others. All three of these things are endangered by abortion and abortive pills.

I'll put it this way: I'll gladly help a struggling family if they're strapped for cash. I'll gladly help find foster parents for a child who needs a home. I'll gladly give money towards churches and charities which care for children without homes or families. But I will not permit, condone, and/or support abortion or abortive pills. It is evident that such atrocities violate the very fabric of Christian principle.

ProLifeChristian
July 2, 2014

Addendum to my previous post. Consists of three points.

1. Companies which manufacture abortion drugs should not exist, because abortion is a moral (and Christian) wrong.
2. Hobby Lobby's 401(k) structure allows employees to invest in companies which make abortion drugs, something which should not be permitted.
3. Hobby Lobby should not have to pay for abortion drugs, since such drugs endanger the basic human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As such, their use should be outlawed.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
July 2, 2014

In regards to this being framed as an abortion issue, ProLifeChristian, I'd reiterate what I offered earlier in this comment thread. It's my feeling that the way for Christians to counter the reality of something like abortion - if they do indeed feel called to do so - is through the sort of empathy and support discussed in this earlier TC article rather than prioritizing personal beliefs over general public health.

ProLifeChristian
July 2, 2014

But you can't have it both ways, Josh. Abortion is not just a violation of Christian tenets; it's a violation of the moral tenets which hold a secular society together, much like murder.

I think that my post demonstrated a great deal of empathy, as I showed a willingness to help struggling parents and those women who become pregnant by accident. But killing the child is never acceptable; offering (non-abortive) support to less-privileged families and supporting the outlaw of abortion need not be mutually exclusive.

Saying that Christians should "get to the heart" of what causes abortion, rather than outlawing it outright, is akin to saying that the causes of slavery should be eliminated, rather than slavery itself. It's the inhumane institution itself which must be outlawed; at the same time, one can be more than willing to eliminate those variables which lead to such atrocities. But that does not change the fact that institutions which deprive individuals of life ought to be eliminated.

Abortion is not an issue of general public health. It's an issue of the life of the child, which should be protected at all costs. In a free society, individuals are guaranteed life and liberty. Individuals are free to engage in any activity they want, as long as they do not endanger others' lives and liberties. Abortion clearly poses a threat to both of these sacred covenants.

Seed Planter
August 4, 2014

I wouldn't consider it a "high horse" at all. They certainly are not dictating or prescribing a high moral standard. They simply do not want to invest their dollars in infanticide and the devaluing of human life. They are certainly not hypocritical, in fact the family is known for giving away 85% of their profits to various humanitarian organizations. Personally, I find it up-hauling for the government to set such a mandate, knowing full well that this would create personal conflicts for business owners. I'm glad that the Supreme Court recognized the freedom of conscience as it has been discarded all too often as of late.

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