December 31, 2012
The Religion of Business

So I’ve been trying to get my head around this phenomenon of businesses like the Hobby Lobby claiming that since the owner has a religious objection to contraception, he should not be required to provide insurance to his employees that covers contraception — especially things like the so-called “morning after” pill. 

As I noted in my post yesterday, the United States has decided that the first amendment protects the rights of religious organizations to be biased in their hiring and other practices. The Catholic Church doesn’t have to hire women as priests; Southern Baptists don’t have to hire gay ministers; whatever. We have decided that if your religion compels you to be bigoted, discriminatory and otherwise an asshole, your religious organization has the right to implement those principles in its hiring and evaluation and benefit practices. There are a few exceptions, like bans on snake handling or the requirement that Christian Scientists take their minor children to the doctor when ill, but otherwise religious organizations are pretty much free to practice every form of discrimination that would otherwise be illegal in the “outside world.” Such discrimination is protected by the first amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

Just like that same amendment protects my right to say anyone who discriminates for religious reasons is a bigot and an ass.

The thing is, though, that the first amendment covers religions, not businesses. Accordingly, the law is free to place all kinds of restrictions on businesses that it does not place on religious organizations.

One such requirement the law places on business is that if a business provides goods and services to the general public, it cannot discriminate against persons seeking the business’s services. Thus, even if I am a racist, if I do business with the general public I still have to seat African Americans in my restaurant. (If I am running a private club, the law says I am free to discriminate.) 

Others rules governing the operating of a business involve benefits. For example, businesses with more than 50 full time employees have to provide health care plans to their employees that meet certain expectations as stated in federal and state law. 

All of that is long-settled law. 

(These requirements, of course, are at the heart of most conservative critiques of government regulation. I raise them here not to advocate them, but to say simply that those are the rules, and the law is settled that government can impose these rules. Whether that is a good idea or not is another debate.)

But now, businesses like the Hobby Lobby are offering a new challenge to this established law. Owners are insisting that since some federal mandate violates their personal religious principles, they (the owners) have the religious right to refuse to enact the requirement. Again, this is a business, not a religious organization. (We have seen similar debates as some pharmacists have refused to dispense RU-486 and other contraception at their pharmacies.)

This only makes sense, given the long settled law and business practices in the US, if you realize that for people like the owner of Hobby Lobby, their businesses are extensions of themselves, including their religious principles. In other words, their businesses have religious meaning and religious value, and they expect their businesses to reflect their religious values.

The levels of stupidity in this notion beggar belief. Businesses and religious organization are not the same thing (even if they have parallels). Businesses and religions operate under profoundly different rules and laws. Whatever Mr. Hobby Lobby wants, he has gay employees, and cohabitating employees and employees who have had or paid for abortions … and he can’t fire any of them on those grounds.

Businesses are not religious organizations, even if one confuses the two.

So perhaps Mr. Hobby Lobby might be reminded that since he’s running a business and not a church, he’s required to provide insurance options to his workers that covers their contraceptive and other healthcare needs. If he doesn’t want to do this, there is an easy out:

convert Hobby Lobby to a church. They have lots of space for services, with lots of convenient parking.

Otherwise, stop being an ass and follow the law. 

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    The fallacy of the original post is the assumption that the purpose of the freedom of religion post is to protect...
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    Can a business like Hobby Lobby get itself legally declared a “ministry”? What are the rules?
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