Making a Hobby (Lobby) or Abusing the First Amendment


Here is the actual First Amendment, not the one the Christian Taliban claims. I’ve bolded the relevant parts, lest there be any confusion.

Amendment I:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The latest sanctimonious tyrant seeking to use religion to hide its agenda is the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain. Hobby Lobby calls itself a “profit-making company… but also a ministry.” Hobby Lobby is seeking exemption from the upcoming federal health care law that requires companies to buy insurance that includes birth control coverage. It argues that such coverage, especially things such as the morning-after pill, violates its religious beliefs and is therefore a First Amendment violation. The  Justice Department has challenged that view.

If you are a fan of freedom of choice, you should be rooting for the Feds, no matter which side of the political spectrum you claim as your own. If Hobby Lobby wins, it will be the morality-based equivalent of the Citizens United decision in that it will define a company as a person. Even more dangerously, it will define a collective (the company) as a single individual, thereby opening Pandora’s box to determine whose voice speaks for that one big collective individual–an oxymoron is ever there was one. (Founder? CEO? CFO? Largest stockholder?)

I’m sure there are those who would argue that owners of a company should be able to do what they wish with their firms. I’d agree–on an individual basis. An owner can, if he wishes, shutter the firm or sell it. If the Hobby Lobby CEO wants to buy an insurance policy without birth control coverage for himself, fine; the First Amendment grants that right. But listen to what Justice Department lawyer Alisa Klein says: “If you make an exemption for the employer, it comes at the expense of the employee.” Klein’s statement reveals the absurdity of the lawsuit. Hobby Lobby isn’t some mom-and-pop store selling model airplanes to preadolescent boys; it’s a chain of 500 stores in 41 states with 13,000 employees. 

Klein raises an important point. What about “the people” mentioned in the First Amendment? And what do we mean by a “company?” Is it one or two puffed up evangelists in Oklahoma, or is it also the firm’s “people” in the form of its 13,000 employees, its wholesalers, its investors, and its customers? Hobby Lobby claims to be a “biblically founded business.” Yeah, so what? It does business in the public sphere where it must conform to all manner of public mandates such as labor laws, safety codes, building inspection laws, and utility restrictions. Moreover, because it’s a profit-making firm, it has no grounds to claim religion-based tax exemptions. (Remember–the Supreme Court has already ruled that health care mandates are a form of taxation.) I suspect the ulterior motive is that Hobby Lobby is part of the “Obamacare” Fear Squad seeking to undermine reform so that it can foist cheaper but inferior health insurance plans on employees.   

I could be wrong about that last sentence, but true religious freedom is where the rubber meets the road for me. If you must, let’s take it back to the individual level. Count me among those that are fed up with people using Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha, or anyone else to tell me what moral decisions I should make. The First Amendment allows you to make decisions for you, but the moment you tell me what I must believe, there is but one path to compelling me to comply: have Congress pass a law that privileges that viewpoint. If you think my use of the term “Christian Taliban” in the lead is harsh, I would reply that there’s not an iota of moral or substantive difference between a Christian telling Americans what they can do and the Taliban imposing Sharia law in Afghan tribal regions under its control. What’s the moral difference between telling a woman she must play Russian roulette with her body, or telling her she must wear a chador?

To use a line I’ve used before, I’m not against religion, but I wish to reserve the right to be against your religion. I’m also against companies acting tyrannically and hiding behind the First Amendment when they do so. And what else other than tyranny should we call foisting your morality upon 13,000 employees?

If you agree, here’s a useful first step. Contact Hobby Lobby Customer Service and tell them you are an ex-customer until they change their policy. Here’s the link: http://www.hobbylobby.com/customer_service/customer_service.cfm

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