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Corporation as conscience

By John Brummett

This article was published July 2, 2014 at 5:00 a.m.

The Hobby Lobby owners deserve respect and protection.

If they believe that IUDs and morning-after pills are immoral, then they must never be required in this great and free country to install in themselves the former, or ingest in themselves the latter.

Anybody trying to force that device or that tablet on those fine Christian people operating that fine American business establishment will have to deal with me.

On the other hand …

If you want an IUD, and feel you need one, or are advised on the device’s advantages by your doctor—and if it’s covered in your company health-insurance plan as required in the minimum-benefits guidelines established by the Affordable Care Act—then, of course, you should be able to exercise your free citizen’s option as provided by law.

And that legally provided option should not disappear if, owing to your special skills with arts and crafts and retail sales and service, you go to work for Hobby Lobby.

That the Hobby Lobby owners think it’s wrong to have an IUD is a decision for them to make for themselves. But it is not a decision for them to make for you simply because they pay you for employment services.

A job became more than slavery in America decades ago. Your employer is not your moral master. Your Lord—or your personal free version thereof—is your moral master.

Let your conscience, not your boss’ conscience, be your guide.

So the 5-to-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court got it badly wrong Monday. Startlingly wrong. Epically wrong.

For one thing, the Republican-nominated majority found that a corporation—at least a family-owned, non-publicly traded one—enjoys freedom of religion, as if it is a person.

But it is not. As Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it in her piercingly profound dissent, health insurance exists not for any corporation contributing to it as a term of employment. It exists for the individual.

A corporation does not need medical insurance. Its problems, whatever their form, cannot be helped by a cardiologist or an orthopedic surgeon. You can’t run Hobby Lobby through an MRI machine.

For another thing, granting dubious freedom of religion to an employer in the context of company health insurance essentially denies freedom to any differing religious conviction of any employee.

For another thing, the five-person Supreme Court majority essentially contradicted its own principle—or negated it—in its written ruling. It specifically stated that it was talking only about religious beliefs on contraception, not about other religionists who, for example, don’t believe in vaccinations or blood transfusions.

And why not?

As Justice Ginsburg nailed it again in her dissent: That sounds a lot like favoring one religion over another. And that sounds a lot like violating the establishing clause of the U.S. Constitution by which government is not supposed to establish a religion. That was a treasured bedrock constitutional principle of this country until … well, Monday, when the court put out this ruling.

When the Supreme Court specifically goes out of its way to say its ruling does not apply to other similar or even identical situations, then it has substituted narrow interest for broad principle. It has said we would certainly appreciate it if y’all wouldn’t make general precedent or a federal case out of this.

And for another thing: The federal government did not mandate that Hobby Lobby cover contraception—or anything. Hobby Lobby could have declined to provide a health plan at all and paid a penalty. Most experts think the company would have saved money, which it could have used to give employees raises to help them in the Obamacare exchanges.

One of the great ironies of contemporary American political debate is that the professed conservatives who decry overly controlling government actually impose a busy-body government. They do so either directly or indirectly through new busy-body authority scandalously delegated to corporations and churches.

With Citizens United and now Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court has said that corporations, being people, may spend as much as they want to say what they want to help get elected whom they want; then, under their prevailing religious view, they may exercise their financial advantage to defy civil law and take you hostage into their church by telling you as an employee what you may and may not do for birth control and general reproductive health.

Here’s how it once was, and must somehow become again: Your religion is free. You are welcome to it. You are protected in it. But it is only yours. It is not the government’s. It is not beholden on anyone else. If you believe a practice to be a sin, don’t do that practice. Marry no same-gender person. Undergo no abortion. Leave the IUD out and the morning-after pill in the bottle. But don’t presume to run the lives of people who believe differently. Pray for them.

And the rest of us will pray for the country.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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JakeTidmore says... July 2, 2014 at 7:01 a.m.

Well said John.
What if the owners were of a religious persuasion that beieves going to a doctor is morally wrong? Now, possibly because of this latest Supreme Court ruling, they have the right to fire any employee who goes to a doctor??
Pharisees and the self-righteous have finagled their way into our laws and government. Their handiwork and purpose is evil. Their religion is more important than your health or your individual rights.

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paladin123p06130833 says... July 2, 2014 at 8:22 a.m.

I recall reading that Hobby Lobby has invested some 73 million dollars in companies that make birth control devices.

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djigoo says... July 2, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.

40% of Hobby Lobby merchandise is purchased from China, which forces abortion and sterilization on its people.

This decision is a victory for the American Taliban.

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raywil says... July 2, 2014 at 8:32 a.m.

Those people still have the right to go to the pharmacy and purchase that pill themselves. It sure is funny that when you libs lose any decision you go on the crying spree, and when you win something you go on the bragging spree!! Sore losers and winners.

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Vickie55 says... July 2, 2014 at 8:42 a.m.

At this point, right or wrong, it is the law that employers provide insurance that includes contraceptives. If Hobby Lobby or anyone else chooses to operate and make a profit from a business, then they should be required to follow all laws associated with a business. What if I decided my religious belief did not include paying unemployment tax? Would that be okay? If they choose not to pay for contraceptives, then they can choose to not operate a business.

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Rightside says... July 2, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act says that the federal government may not put substantial burdens on religious exercise. The Affordable Care Act, as implemented by some federal regulations, required Hobby Lobby to include contraception in its employee health insurance plan. Hobby Lobby covered most forms of contraception, but not four that it believed amounted to abortion, which violates the religious beliefs of Hobby Lobby’s owners.

Alito’s clear-cut message that liberties aren’t lost when individual persons form a corporation, even atheist civil libertarians and Brummett can sincerely utter a big Amen.

RFRA passed in Congress without a single dissenting vote in the House of Representatives and by a 97 vote majority in the Senate. The importance of Religious Freedom Restoration Act demonstrates the massive task of defending religious liberty that lies ahead.

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mozarky2 says... July 2, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.

I have a great idea! Boycott Hobby Lobby, just like the gay boycott of Chik-Fil-A a few years back! Who can forget the millions of gays who turned out to protest? Remember the empty parking lots at Chik-Fil-A? The absence of cars in the drive-thrus? The lines of behind-the-counter workers twiddling their thumbs?
That's funny-neither do I...

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23cal says... July 2, 2014 at 9:15 a.m.

Rightside, always nice to see someone do a little research and offer some factual information.
However, I must take issue with your conclusion, to wit: "Alito’s clear-cut message that liberties aren’t lost when individual persons form a corporation, even atheist civil libertarians and Brummett can sincerely utter a big Amen.'
The individuals (the Greens) always retained their liberties. The segue you make is that corporations must GAIN personal liberties in order for individuals to retain their liberties, and that is just not correct. Also, when RFRA was passed and until this radical decision, it was never intended to apply to for-profit corporations, only to individuals and to non-profits for religious purposes. Anointing person hood with religious rights to a human for-profit construct that was never born and cannot be punished with jail time requires pretzel logic. It appears the five male justices made a political decision. I have already written my senator and representative to initiate repeal of RFRA (fat chance that will happen).

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hah406 says... July 2, 2014 at 9:53 a.m.

What is going to stop the scenarios in Ginsberg's dissent from taking place? Why not refuse to cover blood transfusions if you are of that religion? Heck, the bible is a radically pro-slavery document. The shortest book, a letter from Paul, doesn't talk about not owning slaves. It talks about how you should own slaves. Shall corporations now be free to exercise that religious freedom as well?

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wirebender22 says... July 2, 2014 at 9:56 a.m.

Mr Brummett and four of the supreme court justices are completely missing the point:

If an employee wants birth control, then they can still buy it. It's just that they will have to pay the $9/month cost OUT OF HER OWN pocket instead of the insurance covering it. Corporations ABSOLUTELY HAVE THE RIGHT to determine what benefits they GIVE their employees.

Mozarky2 is exactly right:

If we disagree as consumers how Hobby Lobby treats its employees, then we can exercise our choice to boycott it. We can choose to take our dollars elsewhere, just like consumers recently boycotted Chik-Fil-A, and also Kathy Lee Gifford's line of clothing due to children labor sweatshop issue in 1999. This is how the power of the free market works, and can be very effective!

If as an employee of Hobby Lobby, we don't like having to pay for birth control expense out of pocket, then we can weigh the pros and cons of our employment there and choose to work somewhere else.

I wish people would quit obfuscating the real point just to advance a liberal agenda.

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