July 18 2014
When conservatives talk about the Hobby Lobby case, we stress religious liberty because the ruling doesn’t really affect the use of contraceptives.
If a Hobby Lobby employee wants one of the drugs the company will not cover, she can still get it—just not with the company’s financial endorsement through company insurance policies. The ruling also left room for the government to set up some way to help employees obtain without a copay the four contraceptives Hobby Lobby owners found objectionable through government support. So the issue is really religious liberty.
But, increasingly, appeals to religious liberty, a bedrock principle of the American compact, don’t carry much weight with Senate Democrats. The Senate Democrats tried to pass legislation, blocked for the time being, that would override the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
The Weekly Standard’s Terry Eastland sums up what they are up to:
The Democrats want to “negate” the ruling. But as the Senate bill that would achieve that goal makes clear—a measure Majority Leader Harry Reid vows to keep pushing over the next two years—they want to do far more than that. They want to nullify religious freedom guarantees in the context of health care.
The Senate Democrats bill, however, was more far-reaching than a bill that would merely ensure contraceptives without copays. It really struck at the heart of religious liberty:
Employers would also have to comply with all present and future mandates, not just the one for contraception, since it would be unlawful for an employer “to deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” required under a federal statute or regulation. Were the government to add abortion to the list of “preventive services,” for example, no employer would have legal grounds to object.
One might think religious institutions and religious nonprofits would be unaffected by S 2578. But the bill must be read closely. Both the exemption from the mandate for the former and the accommodation for the latter are provided for through regulation; neither would survive the regulatory change this bill contemplates. All employers would be treated the same—no exemption or accommodation for any, even churches.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, a backer of the bill, recently made a troubling statement about his concept of religious liberty:
"We wouldn’t tell the owners of Hobby Lobby to convert to a different religion or disobey their religion," the New York Democrat said. "But we don’t say that they have to open up a company. And go sell toys, or hobby kits.” For good measure, Schumer added, “We don’t have any [Hobby Lobby outlets] in New York, so I don’t know exactly what they sell.”
Got that? This is an outrageous idea, given our tradition of religious liberty. And I don't need to go all Max Weber on you to point out that Schumer's novel idea would be a way to deprive the nation of a great deal of entrepreneurial energy and capital.
As I note in my most recent Townhall column:
If Hobby Lobby had followed the Schumer Diktat and shut down it’s $3 billion dollar enterprise, 23,000 Hobby Lobby employees would have lost their jobs. Being unemployed, especially in this economy, is arguably a more dire situation than being without free access to one of the four contraception drugs that the Greens objected to providing (they have no problem with the other sixteen on the FDA-approved list for insurance coverage).
Let loose into the current economy, many of Hobby Lobby's employees might have a hard time replacing their lost jobs. That's because, in part on account of the Green family’s religious convictions, a gig at Hobby Lobby pays better than many of the jobs the Obama administration brags about adding whenever there is the slightest uptick in a jobs report. In 2013, Hobby Lobby raised its lowest wage to $14 for full-time employees and $9.50 for part-time employees. Around 16,000 Hobby Lobby employees are full-time.
Unlike all too many other businesses, Hobby Lobby is growing. It expects to add new locations—and with these new locations new jobs—this year. No one is compelled to work for the company of course, but many workers are not only attracted to these higher-than-typical wages, but also with the comparatively generous benefit package Hobby Lobby offers. Though they lack the full complement of contraceptive coverage, full-time Hobby Lobby employees are eligible to enroll in a generous benefit plan that includes medical, dental, prescription drugs, plus with long-term disability and life insurance.
Hobby Lobby offers a 401(k) plan with a generous match from the company. The headquarters boasts an on-site health clinic open to all full-time employees and family members who are covered under the company’s health insurance plan.
It wouldn’t just be those out-of-work former Hobby Lobby employees affected by the closing of the company. The company’s suppliers would also feel an impact. Since Hobby Lobby stocks around 65,000 items, we can assume quite a few of the company’s vendors would suffer, too.
Schumer, of course, is probably bluffing—he figures that people like the Greens will come to their senses and buckle before doing anything as drastic as going out of business for the sake of their consciences. He shouldn’t be so sure. Some business people would see the wisdom of bending to regulations they originally opposed; but others would not. Religious conviction has a way of confounding the secular.
But who needs all those Hobby Lobby jobs?