uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hobby Lobby Should Stick to Frames, Avoid Theology and Pseudo-Science

The CEO of Hobby Lobby, a store where I've been known to shop on occasion, sent a letter this week denouncing the Obama administration for supposedly trampling on the company's rights of religion by requiring employers to offer emergency contraception coverage, in the process offering a host of erroneous assumptions and flat-out bad theology. His company is also filing a lawsuit.

David Green, CEO and founder of the chain, writes that he has always tried to run his business "in harmony with God's laws," and suggests that he knew starting out "that we would succeed if we lived and worked according to God’s word. From there, Hobby Lobby has become one of the nation’s largest arts and crafts retailers, with more than 500 locations in 41 states."

Hobby Lobby, you see, is prosperous and has lots of stores because it is run in accordance with God's laws, apparently. Which means that all other chains must be prosperous because they, too, follow God's laws, and those that have gone under probably deserved it for breaking God's laws. I missed the part of the gospels where Jesus tells his followers, "Invest all you have, sell it to your customers at a reasonable price, and you will have hundreds of locations in dozens of states." In fact, I remember passages almost precisely the opposite. But this is the sort of the Gospel that passes muster in the new right-wing paradigm that aligns market capitalism with "Christianity."

And make no mistake, Green and his company are Christian. That is why he's so upset. You see, "Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions," and Green just got through telling you that he's being asked to pay for "what I believe are abortion-causing drugs," drugs like "the morning-after pill or the week-after pill," which he frets "might end a life after the moment of conception." Green "believes" this is the case, which makes it his religion, which means that when the federal government refuses to subscribe to these "beliefs" (because they aren't medically factual), they are infringing on his "beliefs."

Of course, "conception" happens when a blastocyst attaches to the uterus, which is when the scientific community (and the government) considers a woman pregnant -- and most emergency contraception prevents this from happening. Even when it does inhibit implantation, that means the process ends like up to 50 percent of all fertilized eggs, which fail to implant. Research seems to suggest this doesn't happen within a day or within seven days in the most successful pregnancies.

But if Green insists, contrary to all data, on believing that emergency contraception causes "abortion," I suppose he is welcome to his beliefs nonetheless. He's not welcome, however, to infringe upon his employees' rights to adequate medical care based on actual medical information as opposed to their boss' idiosyncratic dogma.

Moreover, the continual assertion by some Christians that Christianity necessarily involves opposition to abortion should be laid to rest. It constitutes a false witness of the highest order that ignores the fact that until the late 1970s, most Protestants -- including the evangelical Protestants who now lead the charge against abortion -- did not believe that "life begins at conception" (or fertilization or whatever it is they actually believe). For example, in 1974, the Southern Baptist Convention -- now the largest evangelical denomination in the country and one emphatically "pro-life," passed a resolution confirming its 1971 stance on the issue, which it passed "overwhelmingly" and which it said "reflected a middle ground between the extreme of abortion on demand and the opposite extreme of all abortion as murder."

Note that the SBC rejected the notion that "all abortion as murder" as "extreme." Indeed, its 1971 resolution (the first one on abortion, incidentally, in the organization's then 126-year history), urged Southern Baptists to "work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother," something many hard-rightists today categorically reject.

I applaud Hobby Lobby for choosing to give their employees a weekend day off rather than remain open on a heavy shopping day, even if the weekend day they choose is not the Sabbath day that Jesus observed. There are no employment laws requiring stores to remain open on specific days, and for good reason.

But there are a host of other protections that employees' enjoy, and an employer should not be able to skirt those protections and rules simply because he claims it's against his religion. As the abortion issue has proved historically, people can manufacture something that's against their religion too easily enough.


  1. At least as early as 1917, in Canon Law, Catholics have specifically opposed abortion. There has been discussion since the 14th century about when life actually begins, but there has been consistent opposition to abortion, so this isn't a recent development. There are a number of well-educated medical professionals who believe life begins when the sperm permeates the egg ( It's unfair to characterize those who oppose the morning-after pill on religious grounds as ignorant and/or flip-floppers using their beliefs as a convenient excuse.

    As far as the jab about Sunday not being the Sabbath Jesus celebrated, it's true that Jesus observed the Jewish Sabbath. But the epistles set a clear precedent for Christians moving their celebration to Sunday, the Lord's Day, in honor of the Resurrection.

    Finally, somewhat as an aside, there are good, non-religious reasons to oppose mandated coverage of oral contraception and the morning-after pill. They are not curing or preventing a disease. They have serious side-effects, including cancer. Barrier forms of birth control are available for free, with significantly lower risks.

    A Catholic Tired of Being Considered A Prejudiced Moron ;-)

    1. Thanks for your comment.
      First, I never suggested that people who oppose the morning-after pill on religious grounds are ignorant, I simply stated what you did: that they oppose it on religious grounds. I'm sure there are some doctors who agree with that conclusion medically, but they do not represent scientific or medical consensus. As such, absent any medical or scientific consensus agreeing with them, opposition to it is largely one of personal ethics, and I do not believe that personal ethics should be enforced via the government, nor coerced by employers.
      I'm aware that official Catholic teaching on abortion is older than Protestant, but you'll note that I referred specifically to Protestant teaching here. But even 1917 is a very recent development (and coincides with a Western obsession with pro-natalism, I would point out). The fact that it has been debated for time immemorial again illustrates that this is an ethical dilemma, and as such should remain up to each individual woman.
      There are listed side-effects with most drugs, but most medical professionals do not consider contraception to be merely an elective matter.
      In short, I don't think you or anyone else is a "moron" because you are opposed to abortion or emergency contraception. But I also do not think that either the government nor employers at non-religious institutions should be allowed to coerce a woman with respect to something that should remain a matter of personal conscience.