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Hobby Lobby family owners battle for their civil conscience

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POSTED March 24, 2014 11:26 p.m.

Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays.

The closely held family owned chain of 560 arts and crafts stores founded by David Green views the true owner of the retail concern as God. The firm generated $3.3 billion in sales in 2013. Hobby Lobby gives more than a third of its profits each year to religious organizations and other philanthropy groups. Part of its ongoing advertising campaign consists of full-page ads on Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July that quotes Bible verses.

The firm has chaplain services that work with any of its 28,000 employees that request it. That said, religious participation is optional and Hobby Lobby doesn’t ask whether job applicants or employees are religious or not. As Dianna Bradley, Hobby Lobby’s director of chaplain services, was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal, “If they don’t believe in God, we love them where they are.”

It is against that backdrop that Hobby Lobby has taken on the role of David in battling the government Goliath, often known by the shorthand of Obamacare.

Hobby Lobby’s lawyers go before the U.S. Supreme Court today arguing that the firm can’t in good conscience comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act that requires firms to provide insurance that includes an extensive list of birth control measures. Hobby Lobby has no objection to most including the pill and sterilization. It does, however, take exception to requirements that insurance coverage include specific emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices that the family that owns Hobby Lobby views as abortion.

Not complying with Obamacare’s insurance requirements 100 percent by offering the morning-after pills would cost the company $1.3 million a day. That’s $474.5 million a year. The family did have the option of simply not offering insurance to its 28,000 employees. That would have cost them $26.5 million a year in fines and not compromise their religious principles. And when everything was all said and done between the cost of the fine and the savings from not providing insurance, Hobby Lobby would have generated even more profits. But that is not the way the Green family rolls. They want to take care of their employees without compromising what they consider one of the most bedrock religious principles they hold. So they took the government at its word via the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The federal law can require accommodations for religious beliefs, as well as First Amendment protection of the right for the free exercise of religion

The government, for its part, doesn’t doubt the sincerity of the Green family’s beliefs. Instead, they argue that the public’s interest in providing affordable birth control trumps religious freedom.

Given how the high court has ruled on other cases, this should be interesting.

In 2010, the Supreme Court determined corporations enjoy the same First Amendment free speech rights when it came to the government trying to impose limits on their federal spending.

Against that background, federal bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection Agency try to hold owners of companies and corporations to the same criminal standards as individuals.

Much like situational ethics, the government appears to be determined to twist and manipulate the constitution to fit their policy objectives.

It is important to remember the federal government is being challenged not as much on the merits of Obamacare but the civil rights that were protected by the lawful passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In order for the government to prevail based on the 1993 Act they are going to have to make a case that there is a compelling reason not to grant an exception  under Obamacare. 

In other words, they would need to show that the government is incapable of making such contraceptives readily available to people.

Given how easy it is for teens to gain access to birth control through government agencies without parental consent, one would think the government would have a hard time arguing they lack the apparatus to make the specific contraceptives the Green family finds objectionable and an affront to their collective conscience readily available.

What is at stake here is not affordable care but whether there is a limit to government overreach.

As Thomas Jefferson penned in an 1809 letter, “No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of the conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.”

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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