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Even If Hobby Lobby Wins, We Lose

Today’s Supreme Court oral argument, in the case of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, is correctly understood to pit defenders of religious liberty against those who believe that the government has a compelling interest in requiring employers to provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization services through their healthcare policies. In significant part, the case hinges on whether the companies—privately held businesses whose owners are unquestionably deeply religious individuals, and who run their businesses informed by those views—can be considered “persons” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I, like many Christians, hope their case prevails.

But while the businesses are often characterized as “family-owned businesses,” each is a national business with hundreds of employees and multi-state operations. Hobby Lobby is by far the larger chain, with 640 stores that employs 28,000 individuals. While it has religiously-themed goods, plays Christian music, and closes on Sundays, in most respects it is identifiably a “big-box” store that can usually be found in major retail corridors, surrounded by acres of concrete and provisioned largely by merchandise made in China. While it is a “family-owned” business, it is hardly a mom-and-pop shop.

The dominant narrative—religious liberty against state-mandated contraception—altogether ignores the economic nature of the case, and the deeper connections between the economy in which Hobby Lobby successfully and eagerly engages and a society that embraces contraception, abortion, sterilization, and, altogether, infertility. Largely ignored is the fact Hobby Lobby is a significant player in a global economy that has separated markets from morality. Even as it is a Christian-themed brand, it operates in a decisively “secular” economic world. It is almost wholly disembedded from any particular community; its model, like that of all major box stores, is to benefit from economies of scale through standardization and aggressive price-cutting, relying on cheap overseas producers and retail settings that are devoid of any particular cultural or local distinction. The setting where one finds Hobby Lobby near us—on Grape Road in nearby Mishawaka—is about as profane imaginable a place on earth, accessible by six lanes of concrete roads where there is a heavy concentration of large chain retailers, where it anchors a sensory-deadening row of retail store fronts that border acres of cracked and barren pavement, awash in discarded plastic bags and crumpled fast food wrappers. On the rare occasion that I enter the store, even amid the Chinese mass-produced crosses and the piped in Christian music, under the endless florescent lighting and displays carefully-managed to optimize impulse buying, I am hardly moved to a state of piety, prayer, and thanksgiving. I am, like everyone else, looking for the least chintzy item at the cheapest price.

Hobby Lobby—like every chain store of its kind—participates in an economy that is no longer “religious” or even “moral.” That is, it participates in an economy that arose based on the rejection of the subordination of markets embedded within, and subject to, social and moral structures. This “Great Transformation” was detailed and described with great acuity by Karl Polanyi in his masterful 1944 book of that title. He described a sea change of economic practice that took place especially beginning in the 19th-century, but whose theoretical groundwork had been laid already in the 17th- and 18th-centuries by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith. As he succinctly described this “transformation,” previous economic arrangements in which markets were “embedded” within moral and social structures, practices, and customs were replaced by ones in which markets were liberated from those contexts, and shorn of controlling moral and religious norms and ends. “Ultimately that is why the control of the economic system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization of society: it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.”

To summarize a complex argument, Polanyi (and more recently, Brad Gregory in his masterful work, The Unintended Reformation) described how economic arrangements were “disembedded” from particular cultural and religious contexts in which economic arrangements were understood to serve those moral ends—and hence, that limited not only actions, but even the understanding that economic actions could be considered to be undertaken to advance individual interests and priorities. As Polanyi describes, economic exchange so ordered placed a priority on the main ends of social and religious life—the sustenance of community order and flourishing of families within that order. The understanding of an economy based upon the accumulated calculations of self-maximizing individuals was largely non-existent, and a “market” was understood to be a part of the whole, an actual physical place within that social order, not an autonomous, even theoretical space for the exchange of abstracted utility maximers.

Polanyi describes how the replacement of this economy required concerted and often violent reshaping of the existing life-world, most often by elite economic and State actors disrupting and displacing traditional communities and practices. It also required not only the separation of markets from social and religious contexts, and with that move the “individuation” of people, but their acceptance that their labor and nature were nothing more than commodities subject to price mechanisms, a transformative way of considering people and nature alike in newly utilitarian terms. Yet market liberalism required treating both people and natural resources as these “fictitious commodities,” as material for use in industrial processes, in order to disassociate markets from morals and “re-train” people to think of themselves first and foremost as individuals separate from nature and each other. As Polanyi pithily described this transformation, “laissez-faire was planned.”

How delicious he would doubtless find the irony of a “religious corporation” seeking to push back against the State’s understanding of humans as radically autonomous, individuated, biologically sterile, and even hostile to their offspring. For that “religious corporation” operates in an economic system in which it has been wholly disembedded from a pervasive moral and religious context. Its “religion” is no less individuated and “disembedded” than the conception of the self being advanced by the State. It defends its religious views as a matter of individual conscience, of course, because there is no moral, social, or religious context to which it can appeal beyond the autonomy of its own religious belief. Lacking any connecting moral basis on which to stake a social claim, all it can do in the context of a society of “disembeddedness” is seek an exemption from the general practice of advancing radical autonomy. Yet, the effort to secure an exemption is itself already a concession to the very culture and economy of autonomy.

Most ironically, its entire business model is premised upon the conception of the disembedded self. Its stores are located generally in the middle of nowhere, in a sea of asphalt, providing the simulacra of ancient craft with goods produced by Chinese and transported by massive container ships, accessible only by automobiles generally by people living in suburbs. They have contributed to the displacing of smaller, local businesses with the extensive assistance of government, especially in the form of free-trade agreements, military-protected fossil-fuel production and transportation along with international shipping corridors, state-sponsored infrastructure that give major advantages to businesses that rely heavily on economies of scale based on trucking, and zoning laws that encourage the evisceration of downtowns in favor of national chains. Purchases in these chain stores result in a net outflow of money from these communities into the coffers of distant and absentee owners.

This economy—like the one it displaced—is not neutral; it is based on certain assumptions about human nature and implicitly teaches its participants to model their own behavior on those assumptions. The anthropology at the base of our modern economy is that of rationally calculating, utility maximizing individuals who have learned to understand both human labor and resources as commodities, who seek always to calculate economic activity in terms of price (hence, are always called “consumers”) in ways that obscure any connections between what is purchased and its implications for our communities. We have thoroughly accepted the separation of markets from social, moral, and religious structures—indeed, the only way that we generally speak of “morality” in economics is that which is provided after the fact not by communities and the people within them, but only by the now-distant State through regulation and redistribution.

I hope Hobby Lobby wins its case. But we should not deceive ourselves for a minute that what we are seeing is the contestation between a religious corporation and a secular State. We are seeing, rather, the culminating absurdity of what Polanyi called the “utopia” of our modern economic disembedding—the absurdity of a chain store representing the voice of religion in the defense of life amid an economy and polity that values turning people and nature into things. Our entire economy is an education in how to be “pro-choice.” What it most certainly is not in any way, shape or form, is about helping us to understand our true condition as embedded human beings.

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Comments Disabled To "Even If Hobby Lobby Wins, We Lose"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 25, 2014 @ 8:57 pm

I have thought about this. And despite of the administrative and economic theorizing about business, it boils down to one very simple issue.

No one is forcing anyone to work for or shop at businesses whose principles you disagree with, loathe, despise of find objectionable.

Choose to work or shop elsewhere.

#2 Comment By Francis J. Beckwith On March 25, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

“Its stores are located generally in the middle of nowhere, in a sea of asphalt, providing the simulacra of ancient craft with goods produced by Chinese and transported by massive container ships, accessible only by automobiles generally by people living in suburbs.”

Sounds like the Notre Dame campus on game day.

#3 Comment By Edward Hamilton On March 25, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

When Chinese and Saudi-owned companies start dictating the religious practices of fundamental Christians, see Dreher and Deneen screaming “Woe is us!”

I’ve seen this assertion before, with a dearth of evidence for its validity. I can’t speak for Dreher of Deneen, but speaking as a conservative evangelical Christian, I’m happy to call the bluff. If a Muslim restaurant wanted to open and serve only Halal food and have its waitresses in traditional Muslim attire, I’d be not the least perturbed by it. If the feds tried to shut them down, I’d even file a court brief in their support.

#4 Comment By tz On March 25, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

Corporations are undead monsters animated by Dr. Frankenstate, and are endowed by their creator with whatever rights their creator desires to give them.

The error is in the beginning where corporations become cronies – just incorporate and we will absolve you of liability if not sin.

That said, because Hobby Lobby isn’t fighting your particular pet evil doesn’t mean their owners aren’t fighting evil. You may not see anything wrong with abortion, contraception (Griswold v.s CT) or the rest, but they do, but they may not see anything wrong with the pavement and bigness. Perhaps we should ban big-box megachurches and the Televangelists while we are at it.

Oh, and Women have always been able to control their reproduction. Have you considered the word “No”, or doesn’t Obamacare cover treatment for nymphomania?

#5 Comment By Shawn On March 25, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

As a strongly secular person who wants to see Christianity lose its privileged status in society, I’m undecided on whom I want to win this case.

The reason is that if Hobby Lobby wins, I suspect that there will be a major backlash against conservative Christians and Christianity in general as more and more of these types refuse to subsidize birth control and treat gays equally. More and more people will see Christianity for what it is, a bigoted hateful backward belief system; and it will socially ostracize it in the long term.

Yes I would like to legally ostracize these types as well. But unfortunately the interpretation of the 1st Amendment is currently making it difficult to do that just yet.

#6 Comment By Devinicus On March 25, 2014 @ 11:19 pm

KXB said,

If a large Muslim-owned operation forbid any employee from eating a ham sandwich on company premises, would that be religious freedom as well? … is religion only at issue when discussing lady parts?

Hobby Lobby is not seeking to prevent anybody from doing anything, which even a passing familiarity with the case demonstrates. It is seeking to remove four abortifacients from the list of Obamacare-mandated drugs covered by its employer-provided health insurance policy.

Another commonly discussed fact about Hobby Lobby is that the chain closes all its stores on Sundays, a religiously-motivated practices which, I am pretty sure, has nothing to do with “lady parts”. It also raises an interesting counter-factual. What if Obamacare mandated that all large employers sell in the marketplace 7 days a week? Would that be OK by you, KXB?

#7 Comment By Devinicus On March 25, 2014 @ 11:27 pm

rr said,

Suppose the ACA required the employer provided health care insurance plans to cover female circumcision. Would a chain of women’s bookstores owned by two liberal Episcopal feminists have the right to object because of their beliefs? If Hobby Lobby has no right to object, then neither would said feminists bookstore owners. So of course, this example shows that Hobby Lobby should win.

The ACA would never do this because the government’s definition of “health care” is “whatever people we define as ‘health care providers’ define as ‘health care'”. “Health care providers” say that Plan B and IUDs are “health care”, so they are. “Health care providers” say that female circumcision is not “health care”, so it isn’t.

If “health care providers” someday come to understand sexual intercourse to be “health care”, then we should expect prostitution services to be included in a future ACA expansion. This is to say that the real action is with definitions of health care and the empowerment of certain professionals to make those definitions. Government action is largely an afterthought of professional class consensus.

#8 Comment By Devinicus On March 25, 2014 @ 11:38 pm

arrScott said,

Where exactly does a corporation attend worship services?

Erin has already given an excellent retort. Mine is less witty but still important. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of [enter name here] is a legal corporation under US law with employees [including non-Catholics] and a recognized constitutional right to religious liberty. This extant legal fact explains why the Obama Administration repeatedly emphasizes the for-profit nature of Hobby Lobby. The issue is NOT one of simple corporate form; that has long ago been decided in Hobby Lobby’s favor.

#9 Comment By Sabith Khan On March 26, 2014 @ 12:08 am

The article starts off with the right questions, but goes off in tangents, that are hard to justify. How is this company ‘disembedded’, when it is part of the global supply chain? Pray tell me.

The logic of using Polanyi to explain embeddedness is ok, but I simply dont understand how the author could stretch the logic to connect this company, which is implicated in the very system that Polanyi critiqued. Bad reasoning.

Finally, the liberal state represents the interests of the individual, not ‘groups’ or ‘factions’ as James Madison called them. By this logic, the liberal state and its representatives are merely doing what they have been elected to do.

#10 Comment By Carlo On March 26, 2014 @ 7:34 am

Sabith Khan:

“Finally, the liberal state represents the interests of the individual, not ‘groups’ or ‘factions’ as James Madison called them.”

That’s precisely what is called into question. By internal necessity procedural liberalism turns people into “individuals” and leaves them naked in front of the overwhelming power of the state.

Incidentally, I suspect Madison would not identify Churches as “factions.”

#11 Comment By Larry On March 26, 2014 @ 8:32 am

Judging from many of the comments above I’d say even if Hobby Lobby wins, we have already lost.

#12 Comment By Barry On March 26, 2014 @ 9:14 am

Devinicus: “Erin has already given an excellent retort. Mine is less witty but still important. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of [enter name here] is a legal corporation under US law with employees [including non-Catholics] and a recognized constitutional right to religious liberty. This extant legal fact explains why the Obama Administration repeatedly emphasizes the for-profit nature of Hobby Lobby. The issue is NOT one of simple corporate form; that has long ago been decided in Hobby Lobby’s favor.”

Do you understand the difference between a non-profit corporation and a for-profit corporation?

#13 Comment By luko On March 26, 2014 @ 9:19 am

My guess is 5 of the 6 catholics on the supreme court will find a way to give a for profit corporation “religious” liberty. It is absurd.

#14 Comment By Egypt Steve On March 26, 2014 @ 10:56 am

When this case is decided in Hobby Lobby’s favor, and the SCOTUS decides that the owners of a corporation can project their personal religious beliefs onto the corporation itself, why won’t the projection also begin to work in reverse? That is, with the fiction that corporations are persons distinct from their owners dissolved, what will protect corporate owners from liability from the illegal or tortious acts of the corporation?

#15 Comment By Devinicus On March 26, 2014 @ 11:11 am

Barry, I do understand the difference between a for-profit and a non-profit corporation. The Supreme Court is going to decide whether that difference is relevant to the issue at hand.

arrScott, on the other hand, seemed to not understand that his argument about “corporations” having no rights to religious liberty was specious. That was the point of my post which, even reading it again, seems rather clear.

#16 Comment By David Naas On March 26, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

Well spoken, Mister Deneen. A voice of sanity amidst much bloviating with intent to arouse adrenalin.

#17 Comment By Sandra On March 26, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

The four contraceptives in question were offered as part of HL’s health plan until the ACA mandate went into effect. Also, it has been debunked REPEATEDLY by medical professionals that they do not cause abortions. But why let facts get in the way of religious zealots obsession with women and their ability to reproduce.

#18 Comment By Jeff J On March 26, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

I fail to see how this family is to be denied the right to free exercise because the government has made it necessary to incorporate. The corporation is still owned by people with strongly held religious convictions. Just because the incorporated does not strip them of natural rights. The fact that this corporation does business in numerous states and is not a “mom and pop” store is in no way significant to their natural rights. The fact that they do business in the secular world in a specious argument. What world are they supposed to do business on? Did I miss the Christian world somewhere? So, the fact that they do business in a secular world has no bearing on their natural rights. The First Amendment starts. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” The ACA is most certainly an act of congress and it most certainly prohibits the free exercise of religion of the people who own the corporations. If they prevail, I do not agree that we lose. If they do not prevail, we have no religious freedom. The government will indeed have destroyed any last vestige of a constitutional republic.

#19 Comment By Irony Abounds On March 26, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

“Also, it has been debunked REPEATEDLY by medical professionals that they do not cause abortions. But why let facts get in the way of religious zealots obsession with women and their ability to reproduce.”

Sandra, you nailed it. Scalia mentioned that the four contraceptives in question were abortifacients during the hearing, which goes to show just how much of a ideological hack Scalia has become. Scientific ignorance in the name of religion is dumbing America down, and it pervades the highest reaches of American government, even the Supreme Court.

#20 Comment By Karen Vaughan On March 26, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

The thing for Hobby Lobby to do is not to claim that a chain store is religious which a store cannot be. It would be to use the democratic process to change the options described as “health care.”

That said there is no consensus supporting their contentinon that the way IUDs work is by aborting a fertilized egg- they seem to actually prevent the sperm from fertilization.

And where will it end? No vaccine coverage or transfusion coverage or STD screening on religious grounds? How about unequal pay because women should be submissive or blacks who bear the mark of Ham? There is no way to organize a functioning society if we allow wholesale opting out for corporations.

#21 Comment By Jones On March 27, 2014 @ 12:09 am

Many of these comments are foolish, and miss the point. I don’t think Mr. Deneen’s argument was about who should win the case or why, but about the underlying situation. In other words, it’s an attempt to change the conversation, and I think a laudable one.

I think Micah Mattix’s comments (in his Prufrock email) are also well off the mark. But they also demonstrate the worth of Mr. Deneen’s contribution, exposing just how wrongheaded most right-wing thinking is on this point.

Do modern day markets necessarily destroy community? The answer is yes. The rest of Mattix’s statements are deeply muddled, hard to even get traction on.

E.g.: “Deneen writes that markets are “not neutral.” That’s true to an extent, though it depends on what he means by neutral. One could say nothing is neutral, but does the absence of neutrality mean that all tools must be tallied in either a “good” or “evil” column? I think it’s more accurate to say that all tools are a composite of both good and evil aspects that can push agents in one way or another, depending on the tool.”

What does that even mean? I’m not sure. But if you want to say that markets are not inherently good or evil, but neutral, and it depends on what we use them for, then you have either wholly conceded the point (the market has to be embedded on something that will orient it to particular values, which must be supplied from without), or you’re taking it in a different direction: those values should be supplied by the state, which is to put us right into the center of orthodox welfare state liberalism. So I’m not really sure where the critique, to the extent that it has any substance, is going.

#22 Comment By Evets On March 27, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

Reading the comments, it looks as though the entire point of the piece was completely ignored. While Hobby Lobby may be owned by a handful of people who think fondly of themselves as “Christians,” and the store tries to “theme” itself as “Christian,” the reality of what it is (a modern retail franchise business) and how it is run (like all other retail franchises)has really no “Christian” association. The whole thing reeks of hyprocricy, of making banal Christianity, of politicizing faith, of dividing people. Satan couldn’t have devised a better scenario.

#23 Comment By grumpy realist On March 27, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

Also supposedly Hobby Lobby requires its managers to come in on Sunday and its truck drivers shuttling merchandise to their stores to drive on Sunday.

Which sort of shows what sort of “Christians” they are.

#24 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On March 27, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

Karl Polanyi’s thesis is revealing and undoubtedly contains many truths. But if it implies historical fatalism, it’s just as wrong as Marxism. Neither capitalism nor technology (Jacques Ellul’s *technique*) can be understood in fatalistic terms, as if history is fated to move in some particular direction. And Weber was wrong about the inevitability of secularism. However omnipresent secularism seems, it is not an unavoidable historical fate. The study of the philosophy of history shows (I believe) that no form of historical fatalism is true. The belief that it is true is one of main myths of ideology.

#25 Comment By Porterman On March 27, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

I just don’t get this at all. There is a simple truth at the center of all of this. If a certain behavior offends someone on religious grounds, such as contraception, abortion, etc., the proper response is not to engage in that behavior. This has nothing to do with insurance, corporate behavior, or the religious beliefs of an employer.

Hobby Lobby is lying if they say this is about religious liberty. Their religious liberty is not and has never been threatened. They retain and may exercise their religious freedom at any time, and it is in no danger of being curtailed.

Just because a health insurance policy covers a particular treatment has no bearing on anyone’s religious liberty. Just don’t use that particular aspect of your insurance if it is contrary to your beliefs.

No, I think what this is really about is imposing religious belief on others. This is the true threat to liberty.

#26 Comment By Cahokia On March 27, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

“Reading the comments, it looks as though the entire point of the piece was completely ignored. While Hobby Lobby may be owned by a handful of people who think fondly of themselves as “Christians,” and the store tries to “theme” itself as “Christian,” the reality of what it is (a modern retail franchise business) and how it is run (like all other retail franchises)has really no “Christian” association. The whole thing reeks of hyprocricy, of making banal Christianity, of politicizing faith, of dividing people. Satan couldn’t have devised a better scenario.”

This reminds me of old-school Trotskyite “third-campism”, where the ultraleft purists declare a pox on both their houses, the Soviet Union and the U.S., and the bourgeoisie and state socialism. Trad-conservatives seem to be following the Trotskites footsteps into political irrelevancy.

#27 Comment By Kelly Anderson On March 27, 2014 @ 5:38 pm

This article misses the point entirely. Do you want a Federal Government that forces YOU to break your religious principles by compelling you to pay for your employees’ abortions and abortifacients? I don’t. Libs whine that I’m forcing MY religion on THEM, when in fact, the opposite is true. They/you are forcing YOUR beliefs on me, by making me pay for your sin. Why should I have to pay for YOUR choices? Pay for them yourself, or choose to work for someone who agrees with YOU. I don’t. #FoundingFathersConvulsing

#28 Comment By sally On March 28, 2014 @ 12:27 am

If Hobby Lobby had a sincerely held opposition to abortion they would not source goods from a country that has seen hundreds of millions of abortions over the past three decades. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

#29 Comment By Jim Houghton On March 28, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

“The dominant narrative—religious liberty against state-mandated contraception…”

Maybe the first thing the AC should do is state loudly that if this is the dominant narrative then there is something terribly wrong. “State-mandated contraception”??? Am I the only one that thinks that sounds like what it says, i.e. that the state is going to require women to use contraception? The only thing that’s being mandated is ACCESS to contraception. That’s very different. How can I take an article seriously that makes an asinine statement like “The dominant narrative—religious liberty against state-mandated contraception”??

#30 Comment By Carson On March 28, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

Let me see if I understand all this.

So, if a store operates in the real secular world, rather than in a monastery, it can no longer consider itself religious?

Religious people, when they step into a secular mall or drive on a secular superhighway, are no longer religious because they have become affiliated with the secular world? If I am a Christian, but I buy a car made in a Buddhist country, that means I am no longer a Christian? If I stand up when they play the Canadian national anthem at a hockey game, does this mean I am no longer an American? If I buy a pair of shoes from China, which is where most shoes are made nowadays, does this mean I approve of Communism?
This seems to be Mr. Deneen’s illogic. Stunning.

#31 Comment By Joel On March 28, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

Christianity no longer holds a privileged status, and has not for quite some time, so secularists like Shawn can indeed begin the celebration. Feel free to viciously disparage–and eventually punish–Christians all you like Shawn. No one will come to their defense in your new homosexual and infanticide-friendly world ruled by tolerant, forward-thinking folks like yourself. And, abolishing that awful, backward Bill of Rights would be a good start towards that wonderful new world of yours.

#32 Comment By Porterman On March 28, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

Kelly Anderson says “Libs whine that I’m forcing MY religion on THEM, when in fact, the opposite is true. They/you are forcing YOUR beliefs on me, by making me pay for your sin. Why should I have to pay for YOUR choices?”

I would have to assume that your stance would indicate that you support the removal of all tax exempt privileges that religious activities enjoy? This way nobody outside of your religion is forced to pay for your beliefs. Free parking on Sunday, tax, exempt donations, property tax exemptions, etc. Free markets, you know.

#33 Comment By Brandyjack On March 28, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

What a hum! I remember the “Blue Laws.” Christian owned/operated businesses had to be closed on Sunday. Jewish and similarly inclined owners/operators had to closed on Saturday. There being an exception for Mom and Pop businesses, corner stores, candy shops, etc.I am not familiar with the work ceded from 1944, but it sounds like propaganda from that era. Seeing as the Federal Government was a late comer to closing for Religious Holiday and Post Offices were expected to be open seven days a week. Now, to the subject. Quit belly aching. Pay for the insurance. People, regardless of employer, will seek the medical services, they want.

#34 Comment By Jack On March 29, 2014 @ 7:20 am

The point about corporations being or not being religious doe not go to the essence. The issue arises for businesses that are not incorporated. Enormous numbers of businesses are run as sole proprietorships. Most of these are small, but some are large with many employees. For sole proprietorships, the business really can have strong religious convictions and go to church.

#35 Comment By VietVet On March 29, 2014 @ 8:58 am

I found the article deeply engaging and am inspired to read the references cited. Kudos to the “The American Conservative” for its publication. Now, as to the comments, well, unfortunately, too many readers were unwilling or unable to engage the author’s thesis and merely used it as a shortcut back to shopworn traditional tropes. You can lead a horse to water… .

#36 Comment By Dave W On March 29, 2014 @ 8:57 pm

Poorly thought out article. The fact that this is a PRIVATE company, in which the owners feel strongly that living and practicing their Christian values through their company is important … Of which they have very right to do so. The logic implies that since the world is immoral and going to hell in a hand basket, that they should park their values.

#37 Comment By David Giza On March 30, 2014 @ 11:36 am

I work for a company that cuts stencils for Hobby Lobby stores and we are located in the United States.

I agree with Hobby Lobby’s argument regarding religious freedom. They or any company shouldn’t be required to provide contraception or abortion services to their employees if they disagree with that position. The government shouldn’t have that power over any company. An employee who disagrees with the company’s policy can work elsewhere or pay for their own health services.

Incidentally, I don’t believe that auto insurance or homeowner’s insurance should be required to drive a car or purchase a home, either. They should be voluntary.

#38 Comment By Patrick G On March 30, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

This is a silly article. The author seems to yearn for glorious feudal days when citizens chose from overpriced goods in Mom and Pop shops. The masses were tied to the land owned by descendants of gangsters sanctioned by the religious authorities. Give me the shelves of Chinese ticky-tacky selections, among which can be found good and affordable items. If one’s sensibilities are offended by the need to walk among the common people one can bypass Walmart and Costco and pay steep premiums in elite boutique shops. I prefer to have the freedom to choose.

#39 Comment By Curle On March 30, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

An excellent article. It represents the kind of four chess moves back writing I enjoy the most and that keeps bringing me back to this site. Unlike some of the commenters here, I’m a lapsed Christian who nevertheless wants to see Christianity remain healthy and strong and I want to live in a Christian or Judeo-Christian dominated society.

I have no confidence that the erosion of Christianity means the strengthening of secularism because I have yet to see anything remotely like secularism, properly understood, gaining ground. Instead, I’ve seen the rise of a competitor religion, Blank Slatism, whose believers imagine themselves to be secularists but who adhere to a thoroughly un-empirical view of human nature driven by an essentially superstitious expectation that empirically equal outcomes should occur when biologically unequal (as a distributed average) groups and sexes compete in society.

In a strange way Christianity, with its appeal to an ancient text authority, nevertheless cleaves closer to empirical reality than does the Blank Slatism that passes itself off as secularism.

An odd time in which to live.

#40 Comment By kelly On March 30, 2014 @ 11:51 pm

tz wrote: Oh, and Women have always been able to control their reproduction. Have you considered the word “No”, or doesn’t Obamacare cover treatment for nymphomania?

The idea that women have “always” been able to control their reproduction is ridiculous. Have you considered that many women don’t have the power to say “no”? Yes, in general, women in the US today have greater ability than before to choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity, and when or how. But not all women do, and to argue that women have always been able to is just plain wrong.

#41 Comment By Jones On March 31, 2014 @ 12:21 am

Mr. Deneen, the work of Wendell Berry is very much in the same spirit, I think: [1]

#42 Comment By Matthew C. Masotti On April 1, 2014 @ 10:54 am

That blind ‘faith’ in the ‘invisible hand’ has “disembedded” economics from its subordinate role in society is a point Pope Francis raises in Evangelii Gaudium. Joyfully bringing one’s faith to the world (including one’s place of work) is another.

The persecutory legal struggles of Hobby Lobby et al. make their witness all the more praiseworthy.

#43 Comment By CK On April 1, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

I’m sorry, did you just write, with a straight face, that Hobby Lobby is “privately held business[es] whose owners are unquestionably deeply religious individuals?”

Their religious beliefs are so shallow, they purchase cheap goods from a country where birth control and abortion are MANDATORY, in order to make a greater profit. Their religious beliefs are so shallow, they invest tens of millions of dollars in the very pharmaceutical companies that produce these forms of birth control. Their religious beliefs are so shallow, they have for years done business in states that require the provision of these very forms of contraception, and have never once been offended, until the requirement came from a Democratic President. In fact, in this case their so-called “religious beliefs” are POLITICAL, pure and simple.

Having said that, how on earth can you grasp that there is NOTHING Christian about their business, other than the trappings, yet STILL want them to prevail in court? Makes no sense to me.

The Green’s religious beliefs, no matter how conveniently situational and Pharisetic, are NOT being abridged. They are perfectly free to never use these forms of birth control, and to worship however they see fit – in their personal lives. That they want to impose their beliefs on OTHERS is just more deeply held religious hypocrisy: judge not, lest you be judged, and all that.

#44 Comment By redfish On April 4, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

@jimhoughton,

Maybe the first thing the AC should do is state loudly that if this is the dominant narrative then there is something terribly wrong. “State-mandated contraception”??? Am I the only one that thinks that sounds like what it says, i.e. that the state is going to require women to use contraception? The only thing that’s being mandated is ACCESS to contraception. That’s very different. How can I take an article seriously that makes an asinine statement like “The dominant narrative—religious liberty against state-mandated contraception”??

Your version isn’t any more accurate, though. Its mandated access to free contraception, funded by the employer. Women are able to “access” contraception without their employer’s help.

If you want accuracy, you should be consistent.

#45 Comment By John Charles On May 14, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

The point is well made that Hobby Lobby cannot separate itself from the economy and its drive to materialize every choice, including children. Yet, fight we must, including the likes of Hobby Lobby against an economy and a culture that presses such materialism and sees the overarching law of nature. This law stands against the killing of innocent people and the absurdity of forcing people to pay for a “preventative” benefits that violates their conscience. Regardless of the outcome, thank God for the likes of Hobby Lobby that resist the senseless will of a senseless mindset that currently inhabits the executive department of government.