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Jane Ahlin, Published April 05 2014

Ahlin: All that piety can’t hide Hobby Lobby hypocrisy

We Americans are used to hypocrisy. Heaven knows, the political world spins in it, and, sad to say, so does the politically focused religious world. Therefore, it’s no surprise to most of us that the more we learn about Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit over one particular Affordable Care Act requirement for women’s health care, the less it appears to be an earnest stand for religious freedom. Instead, the owners of Hobby Lobby – the Green family – seem downright comfortable in the world where piety is political and principles are for picking and choosing.

Consider a hypothetical employee who specializes in scrapbooking materials for a Hobby Lobby store, a woman whose doctor has recommended the copper IUD as best suited to her birth control needs. If the Supreme Court rules in Hobby Lobby’s favor, this employee will not be able to access that IUD through insurance. That’s because the Green family insists its religious freedom is infringed by the ACA mandate for contraceptive coverage.

It’s not that family members who own Hobby Lobby are against all contraception, but they believe some popular methods interfere with the implantation of embryos when the primary role of preventing fertilization fails, thus making them abortifacients. That’s true of copper IUDs.

Interestingly, it isn’t true of emergency contraceptives Hobby Lobby also opposes, such as Plan B and Ella, which don’t interfere with embryos.

No matter, the Greens don’t want their religious convictions muddied with scientific fact. (Pause for a moment to note they have that right. As individuals they have that right.) Not that science has anything to do with the crux of the Hobby Lobby lawsuit. The real issue at stake is whether the owners of a for-profit corporation have religious rights greater than those of their employees.

The owners of Hobby Lobby acknowledge that the people who work for them likely have religious beliefs different from their own. However, the Greens are the bosses. Not only do they expect the benefits for-profit corporations enjoy, but they also expect their religious rights to trump those of their 22,000 employees.

Which brings us to hypocrisy. The Green family’s insistence that employees only can access medical care according to the Green family’s religious biases is new. Until 2012, insurance for Hobby Lobby employees included the very contraceptives the Green family now claims offend its deeply held religious beliefs. As one article put it, “Hobby Lobby provided emergency contraceptives before they opposed them.

Adding to that bit of hypocrisy (as a recent letter writer to The Forum reminded us) purchasing all those paper products our hypothetical Hobby Lobby employee in scrapbooking sells – products almost exclusively made in China where the government’s “one-child” policy is enforced through abortion – doesn’t seem to bother the Green family. (Then again, how could anybody make serious money in arts and crafts without carrying products from China?)

And there’s more. Writing for “Mother Jones,” Molly Redden showed that Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan is invested to the tune of $73 million in mutual funds that include pharmaceutical companies producing both contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. Redden also pointed out that Hobby Lobby had other choices. There are several mutual fund groups whose portfolios cater to the concerns of the right-wing religious. Of course, the returns might not be as high.

In short, the Hobby Lobby lawsuit is more about corporate entitlement than religious principle. We might find it odd to grant overriding religious rights to corporate entities created for the purpose of making money. After all, they don’t pray or take communion or sing in the choir. Still, the current Supreme Court tends to treat corporations well. You might say, with amazing grace.


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.