When Hobby Lobby sued the federal government to allow it to force the owners’ religious views on its employees, I was reminded of Henry Ward Beecher. The 19th century abolitionist preacher, said, “When a person works in a factory, that’s where he worships.” That sums up Hobby Lobby’s employment practices.
Employers have often sought to discriminate against employees for one reason or another, e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious views. Legislators and courts have stepped up to protect employees, not because of kind hearts but because a stable employment force is as critical to the economy as wise employers. There has been a consensus that economic freedoms don’t end the day you’re hired.
The latest challenge to those principles follows Obamacare rules requiring certain healthcare benefits be available to all employees except in houses of worship. What’s at stake is the definition of “religious liberty.” Is it the right of people with power to impose their beliefs on others? Or is religious liberty the right to make your own religious choices?
News reports indicate Hobby Lobby admits its position is religious. “The owners of Hobby Lobby say their evangelical Christian beliefs prohibit them from providing insurance coverage for drugs like RU-486, which blocks a hormone needed to continue a pregnancy. They also are opposed to providing coverage for Plan B or Ella, known as the “morning-after pill.” These drugs, used as back-up methods for preventing pregnancy, stop the release of eggs from the ovary. “Plaintiffs have a sincere religious objection to providing coverage for Plan B and Ella since they believe those drugs could prevent a human embryo … from implanting in the wall of the uterus, causing the death of the embryo,” court documents show. By forcing the owners to provide coverage for these drugs, the suit says the government is violating their rights to freedom of religion, speech and association. ”
Not so. The employees are the captives. Depriving people who need jobs of healthcare because of your religious beliefs violates “their rights to freedom of religion, speech and association.”
Some argue, “It’s the employer’s business. They can do what they choose.” That’s the same argument employers used when they didn’t want to hire blacks, Jews, or women. Employers own the business but employees are just as indispensible to its success. They should be treated respectfully, not subject to non-employment related rules based on religious beliefs.
One commentator agreeing with Hobby Lobby said, “Obamacare gives unprecedented power to the federal government to dictate how private individuals and institutions must behave.” Hobby Lobby, on the other hand, seeks “unprecedented power” to dictate how their employers and their families behave.
Imagine what other “sincerely held religious beliefs” devout employers might seek to impose?
Obamacare grants conscience waivers to churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship. The Supreme Court has upheld their right to discriminate against employees on the basis of doctrine. If you take a job teaching at the Synagogue, you should expect to tow the theological line. But, if you go to work pumping gas at a filling station owned by the Rabbi, you shouldn’t be forced to accept his religious doctrines.
Those employed at Hobby Lobby may work for devout Christians but they don’t work in a house of worship. Employment law prohibits Hobby Lobby from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. Yet the company seeks to impose its beliefs on employees through a denial of healthcare benefits they find religiously objectionable.
Hobby Lobby’s owners are good people who choose to live their lives according to their understanding of the Bible. That is commendable. But the simple fact that someone takes a job in their store doesn’t mean, as Rev. Beecher claimed, that they “worship” there.
From the beginning, there have been those who would use their power to force others to accept their religious beliefs. This is just one more example. Hobby Lobby’s attorney said, “No American ever wants to be forced to violate their conscious.” Indeed.