Time For A New Hobby?: Craft Company Seeks Right To Make Moral Decisions For Its Employees

Religious liberty gives you the right to make decisions for yourself, not others.

If you’re into crafts, scrapbooking, home improvement or even building model kits, you might be familiar with Hobby Lobby. The nationwide store chain sells a variety of products for fans of these and other pastimes.

What you might not know is that Hobby Lobby considers itself a religious enterprise. Its mission statement lays it right out. The firm’s goal is, “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

This wouldn’t be a problem in many cases. But Hobby Lobby has decided that its business plan of glorifying God is in conflict with federal law. And it has decided it has a right not to follow that law.

The fight is over the so-called “contraceptive mandate.” You might recall that under the Affordable Care Act, most companies are now required to adopt a health insurance plan that includes no-cost birth control. The thinking was that since so many Americans use birth control (and birth-control pills have uses beyond preventing pregnancy) it is essential for good public health to include it in employee plans.

Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate. But firms like Hobby Lobby are not. After all, selling craft kits and acrylic paint is hardly a religious endeavor. The firm employs thousands of people all over the country, and all of them will lose an essential health service if Hobby Lobby prevails in court.

Things are not going well for the firm so far. A federal appeals court refused to grant the company an emergency order exempting it from the mandate. The company took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since this is a preliminary skirmish, the issue landed before Justice Sonia Sotomayor, not the entire court. Sotomayor rejected Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction.

Just to be clear: This was preliminary legal battle over an injunction. Courts ruled that Hobby Lobby must comply with the mandate while it continues to pursue its legal claim in court. The case isn’t over.

And how did the firm react to this? It issued a statement vowing to ignore the law.

“They’re not going to comply with the mandate,” Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Catholic-oriented legal group that is representing Hobby Lobby, said in a statement. “They’re not going to offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan.”

Under the law, companies that refuse to comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act can be fined. In Hobby Lobby’s case, the fines could exceed $1 million per day.

I say bring on the fines. Hobby Lobby exists to sell arts and craft supplies. Many of its employees, I would guess, are getting by on minimum wage. They have every right to a comprehensive health plan, one that leaves the decision of whether to use birth control where it belongs – in the hands of the individual.

The owners of Hobby Lobby obviously feel strongly that use of birth control is immoral. That’s fine. They should never be forced to use it. But they want more than that, much more. They want the right to make that decision for everyone in their employ. They seek the legal right to impose their religiously based view of birth control on those who don’t share it; they want to impose it on people who could very well be harmed by their inability to access contraceptives.

To Hobby Lobby’s owners, this is “religious freedom.” It’s not; it is a distortion of that principle. Religious liberty gives you the right to make decisions for yourself, not others.

The issue of the contraceptive mandate remains active in the federal courts. Last week, an appeals court, also acting on a request for an injunction, ruled in favor of a religious employer.

As the cases bubble up to the appeals court level, we might start to see more clarity from the courts. Americans United recently filed an amicus brief in case pending before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, advising the court not to grant a Missouri mining company the right to impose the owner’s religious views on employees.

Many legal observers believe this matter could end up at the Supreme Court. Perhaps so. It hasn’t yet, and until it does, firms like Hobby Lobby are expected to obey the law. If they won’t, if they believe they have some sort of divine right to make decisions for others, they had better be prepared to bust out their checkbooks.