Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Real Issue with the Hobby Lobby Decision

As usual details get in the way. We get mixed up on the highly visible and miss out on the crux of the matter.

Reading Facebook and many other first reaction posts to the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision you would think that the decision was about abortion. Many people on the pro-Hobby Lobby side made the very good breakdown that Hobby Lobby was not, for whatever reasons, NOT unwilling to pay for birth control, per se. It was not wanting to support certain contraceptive methods that many feel are abortion-related. So, in essence, that makes it sound like abortion is the issue.

On the other side many took issue with the supposed right of a company to a) be treated like a person with freedom of religion rights and/or b) have the right to make medical decisions based on these religious freedoms for others, specifically, women.

These, too have valid points.

But lost in the abortion/contraceptive frenzy was perhaps the most dangerous part of the decision. It is one of basing many kinds of decisions on religious grounds and whether these are good things. The list of "what-ifs" and hypothetical situations could fill up many blog posts. Does this mean, for example:

  • Now Christian Scientist parents can legally refuse, on religious grounds, medical treatment for their children, even if it means saving their lives.
  • Now the right of religious parents to refuse vaccinations for their children and the public schools may not be able to keep those children from attending.
  • And of course, now, small, closely-held family-owned companies can refuse to pay for vaccinations or even medical treatment itself, on sincere religiously held beliefs.
I will admit that I raise these without deeply studying the decision and its broad and narrow interpretations. They are simply the places we might find ourselves on an always slippery slope.

I also will readily admit that there are many slippery slopes on both sides of the argument. That is the problem with any such controversial decision. If there were not a myriad of possible dangers the decisions wouldn't be controversial. The question underlying some of this is, as I discussed a few weeks ago, the issue of conscientious objection. In this case, objecting to being required to do something that goes against your principles.

I continue to be a supporter of the ideal and philosophy of conscientious objection. But, there may be times when
  • saving or promoting life legally trumps such conscientious objection or
  • you must be willing to pay the consequences if such objection is not upheld.
There is also the other issue- having a corporation, even a closely-held, family-owned corporation- be able to impose a religious belief on its employees. Sure there are extremes that are always possible- making an employee attend a church or prayer meeting or something clearly coercive. While someone may try that (there are enough kooks in the world!) it won't go very far. (I hope.)

Add to that what amounts to the personification of organizations that has been going on for a period of time. Is it really true that corporations have the same rights as people? Is it really the case that corporations can be treated like individuals? That makes no sense to me. Even with a closely held company like Hobby Lobby it is not- and cannot be held in many ways to the same standards as we hold individuals. Yet they have increasingly been getting the same rights.

Finally, and here for me may be the most blinded-by-privilege understanding:
Would we agree with this decision if it had been brought by a Muslim-owned firm?
Many would be screaming persecution and prejudice at a moment's notice. In spite of what some may believe, the freedom of religion DOES apply to Muslims and Jews, Buddhists and Hindus.

Back when the Supreme Court outlawed sanctioned prayer in the public schools, I believe it was someone like Martin Marty, professor and wise man of the history of religion in America, who wondered aloud what might happen if a Christian child living in an area where some non-traditional religion was in political control, were forced to pray a different kind of prayer? "Whose prayer?" was the question he asked.

In any case, I am not attempting to answer these questions. They are simply a few of the thoughts that the Hobby Lobby case brought to mind. One of the real difficulties of freedom of religion (and religious conscience) is that we all have a different interpretation of what that might mean. As long as the decision is one that agrees with OUR beliefs, we support it. But religious conscience is tricky- since it is based on "theology" of some kind that is, believe it or not, ever changing.


Gregory Chamberlin said...

I've lost the link to the article written by a Quaker, however the gist of her article that taking a conscientious objection to an issue is to agree to the consequences thereof (as in conscientious objectors to the draft who went to prison, or into exile, etc). It is difficult to see what the consequences are to Hobby Lobby in this case.

pmPilgrim said...

Good point, Greg. I would agree because the issue in this case is not CO, it is turning a corporation into a "person" among others.