Christianity,  Politics

Is Hobby Lobby “forcing religion” onto employees? Hardly.

The Supreme Court has decided to hear Hobby Lobby’s appeal for protection against Obamacare’s coercive abortion mandate. As I noted yesterday, Obamacare imposes crippling fines on employers who will not purchase insurance plans that cover contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. Hobby Lobby is run by a Christian family, and they have said that paying for chemical abortions violates their most deeply held beliefs. And so the owners have made an appeal to the courts for protection from Obamacare’s coercive violation of their religious liberty.

A day after the announcement, it is clear that many people simply do not understand what this case is about. And there are many who seem to be perpetrating an outright misrepresentation. The misrepresentation goes something like this. “Hobby Lobby is trying to deny women access to contraceptives. Hobby Lobby is trying to force their religious beliefs on their employees.” Neither of these claims is true.

But that hasn’t kept high-ranking officials in the Obama administration from spreading the lie. In a piece for The Huffington Post yesterday, senior adviser to President Obama Valerie Jarrett wrote this:

Today, there are people trying to take this right away from women, by letting private, for-profit corporations and employers make medical decisions for their employees, based on their personal beliefs.

A group of for-profit companies are currently suing to gain the right to deny employees access to coverage for birth control and contraceptive care, which are used by the overwhelming majority of American women in their lifetimes. Among the first cases to reach the Supreme Court is one filed by Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain whose owners want to be able to take the option for birth control benefits away from their employees.

There are so many falsehoods in this statement that it’s difficult to know where to start. No one is trying to “take away” a person’s “right” to purchase contraceptives. Nor is anyone trying to “deny employees access to coverage.” These claims are outright, demonstrable untruths. There’s nothing in Hobby Lobby’s suit that would deny any person the freedom to purchase contraceptives or insurance coverage for those devices.

This case is not about a woman’s “right” to purchase contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. This case is about who will be forced to pay for them. President Obama believes that the federal government has a right to force Christian employers to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient devices. Hobby Lobby is simply saying that they cannot in good conscience pay for those things.

What about the claim that Hobby Lobby is “forcing its religion on its employees”? Again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on here. Employees are still free in this country to buy contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. They are not free to expect Christians and other people of conscience to pay for them. Hobby Lobby’s desire not to pay for their employees’ contraceptives is hardly “forcing” their religion onto them. Anyone who thinks that it is is either severely confused or cynically dishonest.

Somehow the reporting on this story is upside down. Contrary to what you may have read, the employees of Hobby Lobby are not being denied or coerced in any way. Hobby Lobby, however, is. The federal government is trying to coerce the owners of Hobby Lobby into violating their most deeply held religious beliefs. To miss that is to miss the point entirely.


  • Bill Griffin

    “Hobby Lobby is trying to deny women access to contraceptives..”

    More or less what Brian Williams with NBC led off his coverage of the story last night with.

  • Roy Fuller

    My question is this: are you willing to embrace the principle that employers have the right to deny medical insurance coverage for whatever conditions which might offend the employer’s religious beliefs? Does an employer have the religious freedom to deny medical benefits (assuming they offer them to their employees) to an employee who has AIDS which was contracted due to their lifestyle? Obviously, I worry about the precedent of establishing in law the principle articulated by supporters of Hobby Lobby.

    • Denise Anderson

      “Medical decisions” in this context or “women’s healthcare” are misnomers, because the government has artificially redefined healthcare to treating the natural processes of conception and pregnancy as diseases that require “preventative services.”

      Some bring up the conscience violations the Jehovah’s Witness have to blood transfusions, however they are already operate outside of the philosophical understanding of healthcare, so a JW employer would never be able to deny blood transfusion coverage to employers.

      Abortion and related “services” are no more healthcare than deciding to get my tongue cut out because I felt it was inconvenient –even though both may occur on the operating table.

      An AIDS patient, no matter how he contracted his disease, would fall under the doctor’s oath to apply benefit for the sick.

      • Aigars Mahinovs (@aigarius)

        If that is what you thing doctor’s oath does, then why isn’t all healthcare free?

        There is a hundred different things that people would not want to get covered due to religious beliefs: abortion, contraception, Plan B, blood transfusions, immunisations, insulin, astma medicine, …. All of those have some religius group in US in opposition of.

        There is a federal standart of what you, as an employer, must provide before it can be called a healthcare plan. Just like there is a standart of what you as a car company must provide before it can be called a car, like seatbelts. Some religious people objected to those too. If you don’t provide the minimum required, then you are not providing healthcare and thus you will have to pay a fine. Simple.

        You can decide on religios grounds not to take birth control pills. However, there is clear precedent that once your religious decision is outside your skin and impacts other people, your religion is in contest with their religion and you have no right to impose. Especially if you are in a position of power, like an employer.

        Also, if the religious exemption gets you out of providing basic healthcare, what’s next? What other laws can people and companies start ignoring based on their religion? What new, profitable religions will show up with very benefitial beliefs? Denying AIDS treatment covrage becasue AIDS is a Gods curse for the unclean souls is a very real thing that has actually happened.

        BTW. Most such cases were thrown out because the companies suing Obamacare did not bother to find out that 22 states have required the same thing for decades and more than half of people suing about this were from those states. Most were actually already providing such coverage for a long time and somehow that did not destroy their religion.

        • Johnny Mason

          What right do you have to tell a company or an individual what they MUST do with their property/money. They are providing the insurance as a benefit to their employee. If they do not want to provide insurance that covers blood transfusions, or contraception, or sex change operations, then that is their prerogative. They are the ones paying for this benefit, so they can define the benefits in whatever way they choose.

          It would be like me giving you a company car and you being upset that it is not four wheel drive. The proper response to an employer giving you a health insurance benefit is thank you, instead you respond like a spoiled 16 year old who got a car for his birthday, but is upset because it is not red.

          • Chris Ryan

            But here’s the thing, its not Hobby Lobby’s money–its my money. I don’t know abt your employer, but my employer doesn’t pay for insurance out of the goodness of its heart, it pays for benefits b/cs I earn them, every day of the week. So I get to do what I want with my benefits, and if my wife, or my 3 sisters want to use their hard earned benefits to buy contraception then that’s their right, ‘cuz just like Mitt Romney “built that”, my wife & sisters have earned that. They aren’t some charity case; they can do what they want with their benefits same as I can do what I want with my salary. Its none of Hobby Lobby’s business.

            When companies get souls then they can complain abt religious liberty, until then its inconsequential. And, really, when literally 98% of American women use contraception this argument makes no sense, b/cs only 2% of the population doesn’t use them. And, literally, based on Hobby Lobby’s logic, a Jehovah’s Witness has every right to deny its employees blood transfusions–b/cs hey, companies would now have religious liberty.

            • James Stanton

              “When companies get souls then they can complain abt religious liberty, until then its inconsequential. ”

              This might be decided by the Supreme Court. They have already reached the dubious conclusion that corporations have rights of personhood. When you’ve made that determination I’m not sure its much of a stretch to decide that the religious liberty of corporations must be protected.

            • doccochran

              It seems that you are confused about how business works. It is NOT your money. It IS Hobby Lobby’s money. Your money is what Hobby Lobby pays you, and, with that money, you are free to buy whatever you would like. You are not entitled to Hobby Lobby’s money. If they choose to buy health insurance for you, great! If they choose to pay part of the premium; that is their choice. If they choose to pay all of the premium; that is their choice. The question is not what Hobby Lobby is doing with your money (or with your part of the insurance premium). Rather, the question is what is Hobby Lobby doing with its money. It would be better, in my opinion, if the business simply paid you a salary. Then, you would be free to get the insurance you want at the price you can afford.

        • Denise Anderson

          Aigars, I believe you completely misread me. You’re right, there is a standard view of healthcare that we’ve operated on for thousands of years, which I mentioned before: improving the conditions of the infirmed. What postmodernity is trying to bring to the table, and which it seems you are arguing for, is new definitions of preventing births as healthcare. But you see, pregnancy isn’t a disease a doctor needs to help you fight against, so it does not fall under the common standard.
          I don’t see how committing to help the infirmed automatically means “free healthcare.” I’m sure you work for a living, do your recipients consider it unjust that you charge for your services? Please let me know if I’m misunderstanding you.

    • Alan Parker

      you obviously do not understand the Christian faith! Don’t confuse Christian faith with denominational doctrines – they are not the same. Jesus would not have ignored or denied aid to anyone who was sick regardless of whether their poor personal decision led to their conditions, and neither would any real Christians, including the President of Hobby Lobby. Murdering an unborn child via abortion is not a medical issue – it a moral issue.

  • Ian Shaw

    While I see the slippery-slope argument you are offering Roy, let’s not change the subject at hand. The issue that the media is skewing revolves around making the claim that these employers are whole heartedly preventing their employees from certain medical coverages as a whole (not just omitting certain items from their insurance coverage). Like Hobby Lobby will physcially prevent individuals from doing certain things outside of work. These employees/individuals are still able to go pharmacies/doctors or dare I mention some national organization to get services, prescriptions, etc. for what they feel they need.

    I read the same thing on NBC last night as well Bill.

  • Ian Shaw

    ” Does an employer have the religious freedom to deny medical benefits (assuming they offer them to their employees) to an employee who has AIDS which was contracted due to their lifestyle? Obviously, I worry about the precedent of establishing in law the principle articulated by supporters of Hobby Lobby.”

    Roy, I’m pretty sure HIPPA would prevent an employer from ever finding out why/how someone contracted any diesease/illness they may have and require medication for it.

    • Roy Fuller

      You are correct, in that HIPPA is designed to prevent this access to such information. However, what if an employer simply assumed, or what if the employee revealed how that contracted AIDS. And, to circle back to the original issue – there are women who take birth control pills for a variety of medical conditions, not just to prevent pregnancy, and so presumably the company should not know (or be able to know) why a women is on oral contraception. Ian, do you worry about an unintended consequences if Hobby Lobby prevails in this appeal?

  • Ian Shaw

    Denise, I would have to agree with your summation on how the government has redefined the term “women’s health” or “women’s reproductive health” to include things that truly are not an apples to apples comparison. They’ll equate an abortion to getting a mammogram or to a PAP screening. As a man named Jules once said, “that’s not even in the same ballpark”.

    Like many other areas/battles that are currently being waged, it’s truly a war of words.

    • James Stanton

      Sure, but they’re not the only ones playing this game. For example, some would object to equating contraception (such as Plan B or ella) to abortions or abortifacients or chemical abortions yet some like Denny are perfectly comfortable avoiding any distinction when it comes to reporting on these drugs. Drugs like RU486 or Mifeprex are not considered contraceptives and are also not covered under the mandate.

  • buddyglass

    If I were Sebelius back when the blowback against the contraception mandate first started I would have compromised by allowing employers to opt out of providing insurance that covers hormonal contraception so long as their provided plans include “extra” coverage that disproportionately benefits women (like contraception). So, basically, you can’t eliminate contraception as a cost-cutting measure but you can replace it with something you don’t find objectionable. Perhaps women under these “alternate” plans would get extra-cheap mammograms, prenatal care, baby delivery, well-woman exams, etc.

    Problem solved.

  • James Bradshaw

    My biggest problem with this mandate is declaring contraception “medically necessary”. In some cases, yes … there may be a medical necessity that exists (endometriosis being one of them). In many cases, however, it is not.

    I have myopia that absolutely requires me to wear contact lenses if I wish to leave the house. I had no choice about acquiring this. Yet, corrective surgery (such as Lasik) is not covered. If I wish to have sex with someone (anyone) without consequences of any sort, I can ask my insurer to provide condoms (and the male condom appears to be covered as part of this mandate).

    I find this troublesome.

    On the flip side, however, an increased use of contraceptives means a likely reduction of abortions.

    • John Klink, Jr.

      “an increased use of contraceptives means a likely reduction of abortions.”

      Unless the contraceptive is actually abortifacient. In this case there is no change to number of abortions. Only the method of the abortion changes. This is why some people, like the owners of Hobby Lobby, object to paying for them.

      • James Stanton

        Perhaps he meant the use of contraceptives prevented a good number of pregnancies that may have otherwise been aborted. Not easily measured but plausible.

        A good place to look would be teen pregnancy rates in different states.

      • James Bradshaw

        Chris, abortion has increased among poorer women over the last couple decades or so (and decreased for more affluent women). According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly 70% of abortions are performed on women who are among the economically “disadvantaged”.

        So, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that providing contraception to this segment of society (who are probably not spending what little money they have on contraception) will somewhat decrease the number of abortions.

        I’m not saying it should be a mandate, mind you. I also don’t think it’s the only solution (educating and encouraging these people to make better choices would be helpful as well).

        However, it does seem plausible that abortions will decrease, that’s all.

  • Bill Hickman

    Denny – an honest question:

    Scenario 1) The government forces Hobby Lobby to purchase an insurance plan that covers contraception. HL’s money goes into the insurance company’s treasury. When an HL employee purchases contraception, the insurance company’s money is transferred to the contraception provider.

    Scenario 2) The government forces Hobby Lobby to pay its employees for the hours they work. HL’s money goes into the employee’s bank account. An HL employee withdraws money from her bank account, goes to the doctor, and purchases contraception.

    If 1 violates HL’s free exercise right by forcing them to “subsidize” contraception, doesn’t 2? How is 2 less of a subsidy than 1? In fact, isn’t 2 a more direct subsidy than 1?

    • Denny Burk

      Once money goes to employee, moral responsibility for the disposition of those assets transfers to the employee. If Hobby Lobby pays for the service directly, Hobby Lobby becomes morally complicit with providing abortifacient devices.

      • Chris Ryan

        But Hobby Lobby isn’t directly funding contraception. Its paying a 3rd party insurer who’s then placing that $$$ into a risk pool funded by many companies & then out of that pool, some person somewhere is choosing to purchase contraception. So this is no different than a company who pays its taxes & then seeing those $$$ used to fund wars, or comprehensive sex ed, or any of the numerous complaints religious ppl have raised abt gov’t expenditures.

        I don’t believe in pre-marital sex so if my funds can be used to fund comprehensive sex ed, then Hobby Lobby’s can be used to fund contraception. Next Jehovah’s Witnesses will insist that they don’t have to fund blood transfusions.

        • James Stanton

          Well I agree with the decision to pursue this case as far as it goes. If the court rules in the government’s favor then Hobby Lobby et all is absolved of any complicity since they would be forced to provide insurance that covers contraception against their will. Of course, the ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of employees who can choose whether or not they want to use contraception.

  • Kevin Bridges

    I wish employers would just pay employees the money they are willing to spend for benefits and let the employee make their own decisions about their own healthcare. Employees could shop for the plan that best suits their needs.

  • Louise Robinson

    Interesting conversation. I have just this week begun working for a 2-1-1 Call Center and on the second day of training it was mentioned that occasionally a call will come in for a referral to an abortion clinic. I told my Supervisor I could not be part of that and asked what the protocol would be if I did get a call? She said she would check with the Director. It seems no one likes these calls but they still have given the number and hung up hoping and praying the woman would not go through with it. At this writing am still awaiting a decision.

  • nwimber

    I’m with you Denny. I actually wrote an article about this myself, and it’s interesting to see the exact same arguments have popped up over here. Specifically the “Jehovah’s Witnesses Blood Transfusion” argument and the fallacy that Hobby Lobby is preventing access to birth control in general. It’s like someone is circulating comment talking points. -Niles Wimber

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