THE BLOG
07/01/2014 06:09 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2014

Hobby Lobby: Lobby or Business?

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is a business with a new sideline acting as a theocratic political lobby and lawmaker. Bringing religious objections to the Obamacare requirement that employers provide healthcare coverage, including birth control, to employees, the craft store has opened a truly messy can of worms.

Hobby Lobby's claim that it is a corporate "person" with religious convictions is dubious. It's a for-profit enterprise, not an incorporated religious entity. It was not created to serve a community of believers. It was created to make money for its owners by selling crafting supplies. And yet Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., has now dangerously intensified the conflict between the relative value of corporate and commercial rights, religious objection (not mere belief), and sexual equality. It has opened the door for evangelical corporatists to police employees' private morality to an extent anticipated in George Orwell's world, but previously unimaginable in Washington.

Hobby Lobby doesn't want to pay employee insurance premiums that could be used by employees to obtain certain types of birth control (notably used only by women) from insurance companies. So, on putatively religious moral grounds, it sued for an exemption from the law of the land.

You could argue that Hobby Lobby has a point. Some withheld taxes during the Vietnam War. They didn't want their money to buy guns because they didn't believe in killing. But in a case called United States v. Lee, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the notion that taxpayers can opt out of the tax system for religious or moral reasons. It recognized the "difficulty in attempting to accommodate religious beliefs in the area of taxation is that 'we are a cosmopolitan nation made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference.'" As the Court wrote in 1982, "To maintain an organized society that guarantees religious freedom to a great variety of faiths requires that some religious practices yield to the common good. Religious beliefs can be accommodated, but there is a point at which accommodation would 'radically restrict the operating latitude of the legislature.'"

But 1982 was a long time ago. Now Hobby Lobby doesn't want to buy abortions or birth control and the slim majority of justices goes along with this.

Taking private civil disobedience into public law is dangerous. What next? Will so-called religious commercial corporations claim a right not to pay for any medical treatment? Not to provide services based on sexual orientation? Not to comply with racial anti-discrimination laws because of a conviction against race mixing? What about a morals clause in employment contracts prohibiting employees from using birth control purchased with wages? The Court hedged about whether its Hobby Lobby reasoning applies to all religious claims. I'm not sure which is worse: the idea that that this is a wedge that will dislodge further freedoms from interference by employers or that it should only bar contraception used by women.

I hear a lot lately the phrase "vicarious trauma." I see it in women who feel morally judged for using birth control or for having abortions. That judgment oozes from Hobby Lobby's choice to go to the mattresses (or rather to the bedrooms) in this case. What happens to a large and plural society -- in which no one is forced to have an abortion or to use birth control -- when the privatistic triumphs? The goal appears to shame and blame women who use contraception or terminate pregnancy. The lobby that is hobbying with women's morality surely achieves that.

And who is in charge of protecting the larger laws against the wormy smaller ones, if it is not the Supreme Court? What is it doing worming around in the private lives, primarily, of women? What is a hobby store doing in the bedroom of its 21,000 employees? This small-minded and ultimately ignorant decision of the Supreme Court adds to the burden too many women already feel when they have an abortion or use birth control. It underscores and makes traumatic what is actually a very moral set of decisions.

It is moral to plan parenthood. It is moral to manage pregnancy. It is moral to have recreational, not procreative, sex, both for women and for men. Women have those rights constitutionally and now are being chastised for doing things that have common sense and are highly moral. Orwellian and wormy are the only descriptions. And it embarrasses, if not shames me, to have to use these words to describe the Supreme Court of my country.