Will the Owners of Hobby Lobby Have to Check Their Faith at Their Own Door?

Why the government should remember that faith is good for business.

Faith inspires not only charitable work, but charity in all work. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the pleas of two families whose faith has long inspired and shaped the way they do business. They seek only the freedom to continue living out their vocations through their businesses without fear of punishment by the government.

It is easy to see faith inspiring charity in the many homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other charitable endeavors started by people of faith in our country. Studies show that people of faith donate more to charities — whether or not the charities have a religious affiliation. Americans in particular have been deemed the “most generous” people in the world.

But if we look more carefully, we can also see how faith can inspire generosity in other workplaces. Many businesses run by people of faith choose to pay employees more, commit to preserving the environment, establish college funds, or donate significant amounts to nonprofit causes.

People of faith do all of these things because they believe that religion should inspire the decisions they make outside of the four walls of their chosen house of worship. Indeed, Pope Francis has observed that “religion [cannot] be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life.” Faith moves us to show concern and responsibility for promoting the common good for the entire human family — including our employees, our neighbors, and those depressed by poverty or hurting from illness.

The Catholic Church has a firm conviction that every Christian is called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to his or her vocation. Some Catholics, like the Little Sisters of the Poor who run nursing homes for the elderly poor, devote their entire lives to helping others and embrace a vow of poverty themselves.

Other Catholics use their God-given talents to start family businesses where they provide generous benefits to their employees and give large amounts of time and money to local and national charities.

Our Christian brothers and sisters like the Green and Hahn families strive in a similar way to practice charity through their business endeavors. The Greens, who own Hobby Lobby Stores, pay full-time employees at almost double the minimum wage, offer generous health benefits, and allow their employees ample time off from work. The Hahns, who own Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker, have committed to care for and preserve the environment in how they operate their business.

Both the Green and Hahn families should not be forced to check their faith at the door of their businesses. But Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood now face annual fines of millions of dollars if they do not provide life-terminating drugs and devices in their employee health plans due to a mandate from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The government has already decided to exempt millions of employees from this mandate for non-religious reasons, but unfortunately, has not extended the same treatment to people striving to follow their faith in business and through nonprofit organizations.

As I explained in a letter to President Obama, this disparity “harshly and disproportionately penalizes those seeking to offer life-affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of their faith.”

It is wrong to penalize people — whether they sell crafts, make cabinets, or run a nursing home — for following their faith. The Greens, the Hahns, and the Little Sisters alike seek the simple goal of continuing to practice their faith in daily life, free from government conscription into a program that violates their core religious beliefs.

The federal Constitution and laws protect the freedom to exercise faith beyond the four walls of a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. The workplace and marketplace, whether non-profit or for-profit, are not religious-freedom free zones; they still consist of human beings whose inherent dignity demands the same protection there as elsewhere.

In fact, many churches, charities, and religious nonprofits regularly incorporate precisely to serve people more effectively. Similarly, when a family business decides to take on a corporate form, it does not diminish, least of all abandon, the deeply-held beliefs that inspire the enterprise.

Community activists and political leaders, as well as religious leaders, often call on businesses to act with a conscience and exercise social responsibility with a view to promoting the greater common good — and rightly so. Government should not punish those who have responded to this call.

Faithful families — just like religious organizations such as Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities — should not have to give up their core convictions when they open their doors to serve others. In any arena, when people are free and encouraged to develop their moral conscience, America — and the world — will be the better for it.

Joseph E. Kurtz
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  • John Cavanaugh- O’Keefe

    I was a conscientious objector during the war in Vietnam. A CO is, almost by definition, out of the mainstream, maybe a little odd. But this nation values conscience, and always has. I support the bishops, and these gutsy people of conscience.

    • http://karlq.spaces.live.com Karl Quick

      Amen. And your experience and our nation’s history of offering conscientious objector status demonstrates, loudly, that the government’s position is not just unfair, but deliberately intolerant and offensive to religious people. It would have been very easy for the administration to carve out “alternative family support” as an option for those of us who object to abortion. We would have proudly funded “adoption services” as an alternative, and ensured that pregnant employees would be supported in their effort to place their child in a loving home. But NO. The administration insists on the right to force their belief in abortion upon the rest of us.

      • thomachuck

        It would be good for you to check out what the Hyde Amendment is and does. Also read my separate post about the two drugs objected to by Hobby Lobby not being abortifacients.

  • http://www.profservsolutions.com Christopher Fabian

    I am praying for Hobby Lobby and other like minded businesses that should not have to check their faith at the door! Perhaps its time to republish “Evangelium Vitae” Blessed Pope John Paul II Encyclical on The Gospel of Life! My appreciation to Archbishop Kurtz and the entire USCCB on their Culture of Life efforts ‘SO THEY MAY LIVE’

  • Jonathan Galliher

    What worries me about your position is that it looks like it destroys the government’s ability to enforce generally applicable regulations, like food safety rules and the fire codes, and I don’t want to live in a nation where business gets to pick and choose which rules it feels like following. Or do you imagine the secular court system has the theological competence to decide which religious objections are actually religious objections?

    • JohnE

      I don’t think so Jonathan. The whole issue regards what exactly IS a generally applicable regulation and what is an unnecessary infringement on religious rights.

  • Mark Edwards

    This is a very slippery slope – one that conservative Christians may not want to go down. If exempted, there seems to be little that would prevent a business owned by a Muslim to forbid interacting with women – it’s taboo for a man in some forms of Islam to speak directly with a woman without her husband present. I think that there were many in the American South who believed it was within their religious rights to deny service (or provide inferior access) to African-Americans, since they were not “fully human.” What about all those pacifist religious groups – wouldn’t such accommodation for Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters support their desires to withhold taxes that the govt uses to fund the military and armaments? Would you deny that the government has a responsibility to balance fairness in the marketplace and the communal square, over and above personal religious liberty?

  • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

    The government not ceding X business an exemption on religious grounds is not similar to a penalty. In fact it’s the businesses that specifically choose to exclude healthcare providers that incidentally provide contraception who are doing the penalizing, disallowing businesses from discriminating in that way is not a breach of rights.

    Following the constitutional separation of church and state, the government may make no law regarding religions. If someone’s reason for requesting an exemption is because of their religion, the government may not take note of it. When they come with a reason for exemption that is not religious/doctrinal, that is when the government can take note.

    On a different topic, I would question the relevancy of comparing religion to irreligion. Atheism simply describes what one is not, and in addition a majority of non-religious people in america are still theists, and there are some (buddhists) religious people who are atheistic. A more fair minded approach would compare humanists to the religious as that tends to be what people who leave religion fill that hole with.

    • Wayne Topp

      I disagree with your assessment of the separation between church and state. Just reading over the statement you quoted makes it pretty obvious that the honus is on the state to not infringe on the church, not the other way around. Religion should be free to believe and practice as it chooses so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of its members or other people. And let’s be clear here, the Hahns and the Greens are not forcing even their employees to believe what they do or practice the same religion. It is a violation of their conscience (and the conscience their business is founded on) to pay for certain medications that cause “spontaneous abortion.” These certain medications can be purchased by the individual employee without penalty from their employer (or they can choose to use a different contraceptive that IS covered in the insurance plans offered by the Green and Hahn families). It is the government’s responsibility to recognize this right, the government also has the responsibility not to make a law requiring all businesses to abide by the beliefs of the Greens and Hahns. Most of the Affordable Care Act is an overreach by the government and hopefully that comes to light in this SC decision.

      • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

        There are two separate issues here. First, whether the ACA should mandate businesses to provide full healthcare coverage for their employees (full healthcare includes co-pay/coverage for morning after pills), and second, whether a business should be allowed an exemption from this mandate on religious grounds. The second issue is what you are talking about, which is definitely a breach of church-state separation.

        If you don’t like the ACA mandating that businesses provide full healthcare coverage then talk about that, but the government cannot take notice if you justify your reasoning by pointing to religious doctrine. Not that you should have to, I think there’s a reasonable case to be made for not having that requirement. If you don’t like the fact that full healthcare coverage includes things like morning after pills then make your case there, but again if your reasoning is reducible to religious doctrine then it’s not something the government can listen to.

        I think the supreme court will probably rule on the side of the christian proponents, unfortunately americans forget the reason christianity exploded in the US while it fell off in the UK is precisely because of the relatively strict church-state separation. Secularism breeds plurality and allows growth, including for religions.

        • Polly Ranschaert

          It’s unfortunate that we so often reduce the issue of humanity to a debate over church/state separation. The underlying point is whether preborn people are people. The morning-after pill has – at least – the potential to kill preborn people, and it’s not a religious argument to say that we shouldn’t kill people. ACA mandates that the Greens and Hahns – and everyone else who provides “full healthcare coverage” – support the potential killing. Are we so far gone here in enlightened America that we still have to debate this?

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            Well done polly, making an argument that is unrelated to religion but rather comes from morality. I should note here that we’ve stepped away from this article’s titular law case into a more general discussion of pro-choice vs pro-life.

            Zygotes are not “preborn people”, they are single-cell organisms which will become a person given sufficient time and luck. For the first five days after conception the “preborn person” exists as a collection of 1-150 cells, without any differentiation between them. No brain, no neurons, etc. For reference, the brain of a fly has over 100,000 neurons and we pay them no mind at all. It would not be reasonable to believe that zygotes are capable of suffering from their own death, so morality doesn’t have a stake as far as that goes. If you’re considering the potential future human as a currently living human, by modern standards you must also consider that each woman’s period costs the life of a potential human, and each insemination marks the genocide of many millions of potential humans (sperm cells) that don’t accomplish anything.

            That’s my take on the morality of week one ‘abortions’. However stepping into the legality of whether to illegalize the choice for an abortion, it’s actually much simpler. Women’s bodies are not gestation tanks to be used by society, becoming pregnant and carrying that to term should be a choice. If a child loses their kidney and may even die if they don’t receive a kidney transfer, that does not mean the mother is required by law to sacrifice any part of her body. It would be a cold mother who doesn’t make that choice (because children are people, unlike zygotes and blastocysts), but not an illegal one. The situation is the same with the legality of abortion.

          • JohnE

            A human zygote is far different than a sperm cell or egg cell. A zygote contains the complete DNA of that person, which an egg cell or sperm cell does not. Every person’s life began as a zygote, not any other type of human cell. And if human life does not begin at the point of conception, then it pretty much becomes arbitrary and unscientific — self-awareness, cutting the umbilical cord, breath of air, a certain level of independence, first words, etc.

            There is also a fundamental difference between “abortions” and miscarriages that occur naturally and abortions that are done intentionally. It’s like saying there’s no difference between a person who dies of a heart attack and someone who is murdered by being stabbed in the chest because they both result in death.

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            If complete DNA is your metric, you’re in even hotter water in terms of consistency. Nowadays with cloning techniques we can take any given cell in the human body as the base, every time you scratch your nose you’re slaughtering potential humans by the millions.

            Saying “human life begins at the moment of DNA combination” is just as arbitrary as any other point we can choose to pick. It’s also irrelevant because what matters is not how we define our words, but what actually exists in reality. The reality is that a microscopic collection of undifferentiated cells has no ability to feel or suffer. Whether you call that bunch of cells ‘human life’ or just ‘life’ is an issue of semantics that’s not relevant to the morality of it.

            I’m not sure what your point is bringing up the distinction between a miscarriage and an abortion, I never even mentioned miscarriages nor have I compared the two. If you’re talking about the analogy to the woman not giving her kidneys away, it seems like a valid analogy to me. If the woman decides not to support her child who’s lost a kidney with her own body, that child would die. If the pregnant woman decides not to support her fetus with her body, that fetus would die. Where’s the relevant difference? Why should society force the one woman to give her body and not the other?

          • JohnE

            Cloning produces an embryo using involved manual processes, usually DNA transfer to an egg cell. The components used to make the embryo are not human life, but the embryo itself is, just like a twin would be. A skin cell is not a human being. A sperm cell is not a human being. An egg cell is not a human being. It’s as absurd as saying a water molecule is a potential human being, since water is also a necessary component for human life. None of these grow into a human being other than a zygote, and every human being began as a zygote. It is the logical point of the beginning of human life and you have provided no other. I doubt you could provide one supported by science and reason and not by emotion or some arbitrary “theological” view.

            I brought up miscarriage because it’s a case where a death actually occurs, whereas the destruction of an egg or sperm cell does not destroy a human life. I was trying to help you by addressing a point with more validity. Human cells are not the same thing as a human being. I think if you were honest and not just stubbornly trying to win an argument, you might be able to admit that.

            If a woman decided not to support her born child who lost her kidney with her own body, the child would indeed die. If a woman decided not to support her fetus with her body, she would have to have him or her killed. The fundamental difference is between natural death and intentional killing. Do we need to explain why those are different?

            As for Hobby Lobby, a woman (or man) who starts a business should not be forced to pay for medication that would kill the unborn child of any of her (or his) employees. The government is trying to force business owners to go against not only their religious views, but religious views that are backed by sound science and what used to be regarded as common sense. Polly’s point is a good one. It’s indeed unfortunate that we reduce the issue of humanity to a debate over church/state separation. The issue is much more basic than that.

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            “Human cells are not the same thing as a human being.”

            I’m not the one arguing that a zygote is a human being. Is this intentional self-deprication or did you just not notice?

            Anyways, where have I ever said that a human cell was a human being? I brought up cloning because you were talking about POTENTIAL humans, as in every woman’s monthly egg is a potential human being, or every zygote is a potential human being. I simply pointed out that given cloning technology, the DNA in any given human cell is a potential human being.

            Your fundamental misunderstanding about abortion is the accidental nature of the killing. The death in the case of the mother not lending her kidney would indeed be incidental, as is the death of every 1st-term embryo (the time period that 92% of abortions take place in). An abortion is the premature termination of pregnancy. A caesarean section is an abortion in which the fetus survives, abortions that take place much earlier offer less chance of survival to the dependent. Death of an embryo as a result of abortion is almost guaranteed, but it’s incidental to the procedure itself. The intention is not to kill the embryo, it’s to cease the pregnancy. It still analogizes to the mother not gifting her child her kidney; the child’s death may be guaranteed and absolutely a result of not receiving a replacement organ, that still doesn’t mean the mother intentionally killed the child. The choice to not gift her kidney guarantees the death of the child, just like the choice of ceasing one’s pregnancy guarantees the death of an embryo, that doesn’t mean the death in either case is the goal.

            You still haven’t addressed the reality of the situation, whether you want to define a zygote as a human life or just life is playing an irrelevant game of semantics, why should we consider it to have any moral implications if a zygote cannot suffer from its own death or experience anything at all?

      • jbarelli

        Except… The ACA does not require Hobby Lobby to provide contraceptive coverage. (That seems to be an important point that is often missed in these conversations.)

        The ACA sets standards for health insurance companies, and states that if a company wants to take advantage of the tax advantages given to companies that provide health insurance, that insurance must meet certain standards. That’s all.

        So Hobby Lobby is not being required to buy anything, much less contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby wants to get the tax advantage, but doesn’t want to meet the standard for that tax advantage.

        As a side note, since contraceptive coverage is essentially preventative medicine, and contraceptives cost far less than the cost of additional pregnancies, insurance companies would be justified in charging more for insurance without contraceptive coverage than for insurance that meets the standard. That’s why they’re happy to provide free contraceptive coverage to church employees that are exempted from that requirement.

        The owners of Hobby Lobby (and the other companies involved) may have to make choices, and their religious convictions may require them to do things that will have a financial impact. That is their choice.

        They have the option of foregoing the tax break, and letting their employees get their health insurance through the exchanges. They do not, however, have the option of putting their employees in the position of not receiving contraceptive coverage. They are welcome to live their faith, but not to force others to do so.

  • twonmakermama mama bear

    Does anyone else out there agree that next the “government,” will NOT allow us to carry our Bible into our place of worship next? THIS IS NOTHING MORE THAN POLOTICS. . . WAKE UP people, or should I say Sheeple???? phew… And this is “One Nation Under God??” hummm seems not many previous ADMINISTRATIOS EVER denied that ……. U N T I L, Mr. Obama!!! Just further PROOF his entire administration has one AGENDA. . . it’s all about “CONTROL!!!” WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

    • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

      “Under God” was jammed into the pledge of allegiance during the Red Scare in the mid 1950s as a political maneuver to further separate us from communism.

      If you’re actually worried about secularism leading to discrimination against religions, don’t be. When a government may make no law regarding religions, that includes special exemptions like hobby lobby are requesting but also any form of negative discrimination. To the eye of a secular government, religions are an intentional blind spot. They do their own thing ideally fully separate from anything government does, with the possible exception of government mediating inter-religious disputes.

  • David

    There are groups who do not believe in paying into Social Security on religous grounds. If an employer of a “for profit business” decides that he/she does not want to pay into SS because of his/her religious beliefs, does the Bishop feel that that employer should be exempt? Is is right for the employer to dictate (or penalize) his/her employees because when they do not hold to the same beliefs as the employer?

  • thomachuck

    The two drugs objected to by Hobby Lobby are technically not abortifacients. This lawsuit is the symptom of self righteousness lapsing into megalomania. Our country lived for many years with more than half the States requiring group health insurers to offer contraceptive coverage. No objection from any responsible Catholic spokesperson. Now that it has become a matter of national policy under this president the objectors come out of the woodwork. This has become political stuntery aimed at punishing Obama for endorsing gay marriage. Living in A Pluralistic Society 101 should appear on the Church’s learning curriculum as soon as possible. There would be a lot of benefit in it. Opening this box has so many pitfalls in it for those who would be forced to forego essential coverage because of the Hobby Lobby’s arrogant self serving actions. People who want to enter the public arena should be willing to play by its rules–not expect to be given license to choose which laws not to obey.

    • Milbo 1

      thomaschuck, I am praying for you. May the Lord open your eyes to the dangerous slippery slope our country is headed when firmly held religious beliefs are violated. Hobby Lobby is not the arrogant one here. May God enlighten you!

      • thomachuck

        There is indeed a slippery slope and it is surely created when any person with the means can suddenly make himself a conscientious objector to any law he chooses not to obey. Corporations are explicitly created to shield owners from liability. Should they expect their organizations to manifest the religious views of the people who own them ( as if the distinction between people and the business entity is suddenly made to disappear when it is expedient) and then the separation between the two is re- invoked (also when it becomes convenient)? I think that is the whole crux of the argument. Plaintiffs in this case want to have things both ways and that is not what the rule of law is about. If you cannot see the ridiculous permutations in Hobby Lobby you are really ignoring what our civil society is based on.

      • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01481621550903107972 Richard Baldwin Cook

        Milnbo, you failed to answer a single one of Thomaschuck’s arguments. What about the fact that prior to Obama in the White House, there were no Catholic objections to insurers offering contraceptive coverage. Even now, many Catholic universities and other institutions make no objections and have not joined the USCCB campaign.