This has become the hot topic of the week, maybe beyond. So why not wade in and see what happens?
There’s no doubt in my mind that the convictions of the Green family, who own Hobby Lobby, are sincere, and that their beliefs about abortion are consistent with Biblical teaching on the subject. The constitution guarantees their right to hold that belief because of their Christian faith. In fact, the constitution would guarantee their religious freedom even if they didn’t hold beliefs consistent with Biblical Christianity. The broad definition of religious freedom applies to any conviction that can be categorized as “religious” in nature. Personally, I hold the same conviction about abortion as they have expressed. I believe that there isn’t an issue of “choice” for a woman after conception occurs. The choice that a woman has regarding her own reproductive rights begins with the decision to engage in a sexual relationship. After conception, it’s not just her body anymore.
And there’s something to be said about a business that operates on Christian principles. I have never actually been in a Hobby Lobby store, mainly because I’m not really in the market for much of what they sell, and there aren’t any really close to where I have lived in recent years. But I’ve heard that their prices are fair, their policies reflect good customer service, and they treat their employees well in terms of fair wages and benefits. It’s a retail business, so there aren’t a lot of employees who have complicated jobs, but the few people I’ve met who work in their stores seem to be satisfied with their wages and benefits, and with opportunities for advancement.
But this decision isn’t really about the Green family, or the way they choose to run their business. It’s about whether or not a corporate business can be “Christian” by nature, and whether or not the constitutional guarantee of individual religious freedom makes a corporation “religious” in nature simply by virtue of its majority ownership.
Religious freedom is an individual protection, in the strictest constructionist interpretation of the constitution. It is a right that is guaranteed to individuals, recognizing that religious beliefs and convictions are a matter of individual choice. Individuals can experience conversion to Christian faith, believe they have been justified, and sanctified by the blood of Jesus, and believe that they have a relationship with God as a result of that experience. They cannot be penalized, or considered second class citizens, or be forced to accept a different religious perspective under the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. Likewise, an individual who accepts and embraces the teachings of Buddhism, or Islam, or Wicca, is guaranteed the same right.
But how can a corporation be, by nature, religious? It does not have a soul, and therefore, it cannot exercise the freedom to convert to Christian faith. Does the fact that its majority shareholders hold Christian beliefs allow them to extend the constitutional protection of religious freedom to a business which they run, and from which they earn a living, but from which its expenses are paid by profit, not personal income of the owners? I think this decision is going to have some far reaching implications that are going to cause some problems when it comes to the application of individual constitutional rights.
For most of its history, the US Supreme Court has upheld individual rights over corporations, trusts, and other business conglomoraes, and protected the rights of employees and customers, recognizing that individual rights are constitutionally guaranteed. Businesses and corporations have been prevented from encroaching on individually guaranteed freedoms by numerous court rulings. Now, however, the court seems to have changed its opinion. The Citizens United ruling, allowing corporations to make virtually unlimited campaign contributions will ultimately have the effect of allowing big business to buy Congressional favor and influence. If you have doubts about that, just be observant. It is already happening.
A corporation can’t “convert” to a religious belief. It’s individual owners can, but the corporation itself does not have a soul, and is, in fact, an entity that exists on paper, not in the flesh. It’s owners do not use their personal assets to pay its bills, the corporation itself owns its assets. I don’t believe that by providing the required insurance policy and prescription drug coverage, the Green family would have been violating their religious convictions regarding drugs which they believe cause abortions. It would have been the corporation’s funds, not theirs, that would be paying the premiums. Their individual religious freedom, and that of their employees, is protected. I think this ruling is going to open some doors for corporations to hide behind religion to take advantage of employees, or customers, or to use against their competition. I think the court will have to revisit this decision in the near future, when some of the negative aspects of their ruling begin to manifest themselves in legal actions.
Religious freedom is a cherished, and extremely important constitutional guarantee. Think about all of the possible long term implications of this ruling before deciding it was the right thing for the Supreme Court to do. There are a lot of laws and regulations that businesses are subjected to which are simply the cost, and price, of doing business. Compliance is not surrender, it is an acknowledgement that the Bible’s principles to be obedient to the civil government is important, and it is an opportunity to share personal convictions publicly. I would not want to see any of that undermined by a court decision that could be used to do more harm than good. And I can be almost certain that somewhere, this ruling will be applied and turned upside down to be used in a way to restrict religious freedom for Christians.
It seems to me that if abortion really is at the bottom of this issue, as supporters of the decision insist that it is, that the simplest way for the Supreme Court to rule would be to overturn the Roe decision. That’s been the bottom line ever since it was made back in the 70’s. It would solve this problem, without having to walk the fine line of disturbing individual religious liberty. It would take courage and conviction, something which politicians have promised, but have not been held accountable to do for more than thirty years. That’s the issue. The Hobby Lobby decision is just subterfuge, a bone thrown to pacify a constituency that doesn’t demand accountability from the politicians it supports.