The Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court this week, and social media, as well as traditional news outlets, are abuzz with information on the case. The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby (a chain of arts and crafts stores) is a devout family whose faith permeates their business practices. Because of their faith, they refuse to provide certain contraceptive coverage to their employees because they believe these particular contraceptives are abortifacients. The government, through the Affordable Care Act, wants to force them to provide these contraceptives and more to their employees.
1. The Hobby Lobby case is not about controlling women’s bodies.
“We believe women should be able to make personal decisions about their families, their bodies, their sexuality and their health– not their employers,” reads one anti-Hobby Lobby Facebook petition (posted by someone affiliated with the “National Coalition of American Nuns”). This statement is one we can all agree with. I wouldn’t want my employer telling me what to do with my body or sexuality. But Hobby Lobby is not doing that. They’re not hiring or firing based on what women do with their bodies. They’re not forcing female employees to stop using birth control.
2. The Hobby Lobby case is not about establishing religion.
There are two clauses related to religion in the First Amendment. The “Establishment Clause” forbids states — the government — from establishing religions. The “Free Exercise” clause protects the individual’s right to exercise one’s religion as one sees fit. The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, believes that certain contraceptives are abortifacients. Because of their religious faith, the Greens cannot in good conscience support including them in employee health plans. Their “free exercise” rights are therefore being infringed on when the government says they must offer these to employees. The Greens are not establishing a state religion, nor are they even forcing women to abide by their precepts (as stated above, Hobby Lobby does not get involved in the personal health decisions women employees make). The Greens simply resist the force of the government telling them to go against their conscience.
3. The Hobby Lobby case is about slippery slopes, but it depends on what side of the hill you stand on.
Opponents of Hobby Lobby’s point of view suggest that if the court rules in the Greens’ favor, it will be a slippery slope to other freedom and/or health restrictions. Just Google “Hobby Lobby slippery slope” for a flavor of the arguments. Here’s one from Think Progress, a liberal think tank:
And birth control isn’t the only type of medical care that some Americans object to on religious grounds. There are some groups who are opposed to modern health services like vaccinations, blood transfusions, or mental health care. If these upcoming legal challenges are successful, that could open the door for employers to restrict their workers’ coverage for doctors’ visits that include discussion of those topics, too. It’s a slippery slope.
It would be a slippery slope toward anarchy if the government always sided with those advancing religious freedom arguments. But they don’t. They do, however, require compelling evidence that the state should overrule an individual’s conscience. And to those of us on the Hobby Lobby side, here’s the real slippery slope to avoid–a government that too easily overrules individual conscience in service to the state. That slope leads to a society where “just following orders” (and not considering one’s conscience) could justify a whole range of bad behavior.
4. The Hobby Lobby case is not about whether the Green family’s views on contraception are right.
The nuns group mentioned above makes a point of stating that using birth control is not a sin. I can agree with that. So could most Americans, even most Catholics. But it doesn’t matter what we think about the contraceptives in question here–the ones the Green family believes are abortifacients. What matters is that the Greens think they’re sinful and yet are still being forced, through employee insurance mandates, to provide them. We might believe the Greens’ thinking on these contraceptives to be wrong but–and this is hugely important–they have the right to be wrong. Not to be flip, but that’s what the First Amendment is about. The founder of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Kevin Seamus Hasson, in fact, has written a book with that title about First Amendment issues. I highly recommend it.
5. The Hobby Lobby case is not about the Greens forcing their contraception views on women. It’s about whether the government can force its contraception views on the Greens.
The government can set up programs to provide contraceptives to women through a variety of ways. If, through our government, a majority decides that it is in everyone’s interest to provide contraceptives for free, the government could do so. But through the ACA, the government is forcing the Green family to provide contraceptive coverage for employees. When there are other ways to accomplish the goal of providing contraceptives to women, why is the government forcing individuals with contrary views to violate their conscience? It is not the Greens forcing their views on women in their employ. It is the government forcing its view on the Greens.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing Hobby Lobby. They have an excellent explanation of the case at their website. I encourage readers to stop by there and look at the fact sheets and legal documents about the case.