Pastor Tim Carson of the Disciples of Christ recently published an article decrying the Federal Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. When a man of the cloth steps out of the pulpit to enter into political debate, he usually reveals why this is not a good idea. Pastor Carson writes within the conceptual fog promulgated by the progressive left, loosely using undefined terms like “the social contract a corporation holds with its workers.” Below we attempt to defog and unpack his arguments.
The main argument appears to be this: the Hobby Lobby decision is bad, because some family-owned corporations exercising their religious freedom diminish, harm, or disrespect the religious freedom of some, but not all, employees by not providing free abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance plans. By this reasoning my exercising religious freedom and not doing what you want me to do may be a violation of your religious freedom. We are not making this up.
First off, Pastor Tim says we should “move the issue of abortion to the side,” presumably so he can discuss other aspects of the case he disagrees with. But the central issue is in fact abortion. If he believes the case has been wrongly decided, then he comes down on the side of compelling the family owning Hobby Lobby to pay for abortifacient drugs. Does he support this exercise of government power? The high court had to rule yea or nay. Averring that more issues are at play than religious freedom, he limp-wristedly ducks addressing the real issue head-on and writes that the decision “represents movement in the wrong direction.” Should legal decisions be based, not on the crux of the issue, but on movement in the ‘right’ direction? Should vague feelings of disquiet determine legal decisions?
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 was co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi and passed Congress with a wide bipartisan margin. Harry Reid supported it. It requires the Federal government to respect religious belief as much as possible. Only in the narrow case of a compelling state interest may it require actions contrary to religious conscience and then only if it chooses the least restrictive means of furthering its interest. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the court, accepting a compelling state interest, pointed out that the least restrictive means would be for the state simply to provide abortifacient birth control itself. (We are suspicious when the state asserts a compelling interest, but does not wish to pay for it.) The upshot is that the owners of closely held corporations, along with those of sole proprietorships, do not lose their religious rights solely by reason of business structure.
Pastor Tim thinks that the Supreme Court’s decision creates “a distortion of reality,” corporations as persons with moral beliefs. “The court again presumed a corporation is like a person, a viewpoint that appears to be gaining traction.” This is not a presumption of the court; it is long standing law as codified in the dictionary act. As applied here the legal doctrine is that the owners of a closely held (i.e., family) corporation do not lose their free-speech and other rights by the mere fact of incorporation, profit-making or not. The legal fiction of corporations as people simply recognizes that individual rights can be expressed as much through business as non-economic activities.
He then goes on to complain that the decision exempts corporations “from responsibilities that incorporated entities assume in a society from which they benefit.” We hear echoes of Elizabeth Warren and Barack H. Obama’s asserting that “you didn’t build that.” Many would say that it is the responsibility of families like the Greens to challenge this naked and immoral assertion of state power.
“What about the freedom, even the religious freedom, of the individual, the employee,” he asks. And again, is the morality of the company being imposed on the employee? He appears to believe that the religious beliefs of some of Hobby Lobby’s employees require affirmative support by the Green family, who in his opinion should include abortion-inducing contraceptives in their insurance plan. Thus for him the religious freedom of the Green family is trumped by the religious freedom of some employees. This is an astonishingly naïve argument. The RFRA grants religious rights to individual people. The only affirmative obligation is to government, which must respect these rights. There is no requirement for individuals to respect the religious rights of others in their own private lives. But of course other employees agree with the Green family and his argument collapses. The court decision leaves each person’s religious freedom intact, not preferring one group over others – exactly the intent of the law.
If Pastor Tim wishes to go beyond the laws of civil society, we ask him, first, to distinguish civil from moral law, and then to show biblical authority not only to authorize abortifacients, but also the biblical obligation to violate one’s conscience to supply these drugs to one group of one’s employees.
Lastly he inveighs against the “troubling and growing development, the preferential protection of corporations – those with power – over individuals without power.” Here he seems to be protesting – without evidence – that powerful moneyed interests are protecting the consciences of evangelical Christians. We are breathless.