Tag Archives: Christianity

Hobby Lobby: The Corporation Cult & Creeping Theocracy

1 Jul

From browser

On Monday, an all-male majority chorus of Supreme Court Justices determined that a for-profit corporation’s right to exercise its religion is inviolable, and women should probably dummy up and why aren’t they barefoot and pregnant, making them a sandwich in the kitchen, by the way? 

To clarify the ruling’s logic

(a) people have a right to free exercise of religion, under the Constitution but within the context of this case, pursuant to the 1993 “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”
(b) corporations are people; 
(c) therefore, closely held (non-publicly-traded) for-profit corporations are free to impose their owners’ “sincere religious beliefs” on employees. 

The RFRA sets up a scheme whereby a law of general applicability that allegedly interferes with a person’s free exercise of religion be strictly scrutinized to determine if it is constitutional.  The law was passed in response to American Indians’ complaints that federal actions were interfering with their ability to practice their religion and hold services. It also extends to American Indians’ use of peyote in services, and it has been cited as protecting Rastafarians from prosecution for marijuana possession.

When your smug Obama-hating buddies start in with “unconstitutional”, that’s not this case. The Hobby Lobby decision did not rule on the constitutionality of anything. 

The law is designed to protect people’s ability to worship by applying strict scrutiny to any accusation that a law of general application is violating someone’s free exercise rights. “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The test a court will apply assesses whether the burden on religion is in the  “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” The interest must be more than just routine, or a simple efficiency improvement, and relates instead to “core constitutional issues”. Secondly, the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Hobby Lobby, however, is not a person and is not exercising a religion. It is a corporate entity – a legal fiction – that sells picture frames and scrapbooking supplies. It’s not a “small business”, because this craft store chain has 15,000 employees and over 550 stores nationwide. It’s a closely held corporation, meaning it has corporate status but its shares are not publicly traded. Its fictional corporate “personhood” enables Hobby Lobby to operate and enter into contracts while limiting shareholder liability. The owners of Hobby Lobby’s shares are all evangelical Christians, and they make much of that on the company’s website. 

Hobby Lobby offers health insurance to its employees, but in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act, the policies needed to cover certain types of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby claims that it objected only to 4 of the 20 specified drugs and devices, because it believes them to be abortifacients – a point that is, itself, open to debate. (Plan B, Ella, and two types of IUDs were affected. These are the morning-after and week-after pill and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. The Health and Human Services regulation at issue did not mandate RU-486 be covered. Scientifically, these are not “abortifacients”). 

Hobby Lobby itself was not mandated to hand contraceptives or IUDs to its employees, but merely to offer health insurance plans that covered them. Hobby Lobby argued that this mandate violated the company’s right to freely exercise its religion and sought injunctive relief enabling them to not pay for coverage of the four objectionable drugs and devices.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito sided with Hobby Lobby. The majority, assuming the government had a compelling interest at stake, had a less intrusive way of meeting its goals. For instance, the government could pay for the devices and drugs itself, or mandate the insurers to pay for them. 

So, the outrage over Hobby Lobby is overblown insofar as it’s being made to seem as if the company objected to all contraception. It is not, however, overblown on two other points; namely, the notion that corporations are somehow sentient beings that have “faith”, and the notion that your employer can interfere with and micromanage the coverages you contract for with your health insurer. Remember – it is the policyholder who is the contracting party. 

As Justice Ginsburg’s dissent pointed out, this is a wild expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual liberties. She noted that the majority’s decision, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.” The majority basically responded that this was all no biggie. 

Corporate personhood is a legal fiction – a convenience. Yet now we’re to believe that fictional people can hold real religious beliefs – and in many cases, the rights of the fictional person override the rights of a human being. Hobby Lobby as a corporation cannot exercise religion – physically or otherwise. This is the right-wing elite’s dream of expanding the cult of the corporation – something that kicked off when the Citizens United case declared that corporations can have 1st Amendment rights to spend unlimited money to influence elections. 

Justice Alito explained why corporations should sometimes be regarded as persons. “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” he wrote. “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Justice Ginsburg said the commercial nature of for-profit corporations made a difference.

“The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” she wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.”

If Hobby Lobby can, by dint of its religious personhood, pick and choose which statutes and regulations of general application it will follow, the same is true of any closely held corporation, regardless of religion. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religion and reject a health insurance mandate for certain prescriptions, then any for-profit corporation can claim “free exercise” and religion rights to reject anti-discrimination laws in hiring, or public accommodations laws. How soon before companies like Hobby Lobby have a “no gays need apply” signs out front, or “no handicapped applicants will be considered”, or “transgendered people and transvestites stay out”. 

With this ruling, it should be mandatory that companies such as Hobby Lobby issue a formal disclosure of the corporate entity’s religious beliefs so that employees can make an informed choice whether to be employed there. It won’t, though, because we have elevated corporate personhood above human personhood, and we have elevated Christianity above all other religious beliefs. 

Welcome to the new theocracy.

Facts are Fun

30 Jul

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan:

As a Jewish American, I am offended by Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that use the name of Córdoba by Muslims is insulting to non-Muslims. The height of Muslim rule the Iberian Peninsula, the rule of the Caliphate of Córdoba, was also the height of Jewish culture in Spain. It was the decline of the Caliphate of Córdoba that began the end of tolerance of Jews in the Muslim-ruled parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Nevertheless, it was not until Christian rule was established over the entire Iberian Peninsula in 1492 that there was a concerted effort to eliminate the existence of Jews and Judaism in every part of Spain.

Gingrich seems most offended by the fact that the Mosque of Córdoba was established on the grounds of a former church. He failed to mention that the church in question was purchased for the purpose of constructing a mosque on the site. Those who later converted the mosque into a cathedral were not so kind as to offer payment.

I agree with Gingrich that churches and synagogues should be allowed to operate from within Saudia Arabia. However, I am of the opinion that this should not be a pre-requisite for religious freedom in the United States. I was under the impression that the United States considered democracy and freedom of religion to be core principles, not privileges to be used as bargaining chips.

You’re entitled to your opinion.

You’re not entitled to your own facts.

And Now For Something Completely Different. . .

30 Aug

Its August, a time (normally) for summer vacations and a slow news cycle. Not so this year, with a healthcare debate, town hall revolts, and the death of Ted Kennedy. I tire of the political brinkmanship and Hitlerisms. I mourn (figuratively, not literally) for Uncle Teddy, because he seems an irreplaceable loss. I may disagree with 90% of his politics, but TMK was principled and eloquent, a thinker and a patriot. I would take 50 of him in the Senate as opposed to 1 Tom Delay, and I’m on Delay’s team. It is a passing of an era, and there is a decided lack of statesmen left like him on either side. John McCain said after the 2008 campaign he would return to the Senate and be the Republican’s Lion. Disappointingly, that hasn’t happened. But more on that later.

So instead of another retread post of today’s national (Birfer Bad! Healthcare Good!) or local (where is Mickey Kearns?) politics, here is something completely different.

Dr. Philip Jenkins of Penn State has written a fascinating book: The Lost History of Christianity. You do not have to do be Christian, or particularly religious, to be entranced by history most of the world has forgotten.

Modern society, fast paced and in a constant state of flux, tends to lack introspection or perspective. Ironically, in a world where things constantly “change,” most of the world looks at the current situation today as “how its always been.” This is certainly true for the great religions of the world: Europe is (or was) Christian, the Middle East and South East Asia are Muslim, India is Hindu, etc. Where those areas intersect, war happens.

Jenkins throws that model on its head. There have been a spate of semi-popular books lately, like 1491 by Charles Mann, that seek to show you how “everything you thought you knew was wrong.” What Mann did for Native Americans, Jenkins has done for the spread of Christianity. Its not that Europe was the center of the Christian world. Its that it is the only piece left.

Jerusalem As the Center

Jenkins details how Christianity spread across the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and into China in the 600 years between the death of Jesus and the birth of Mohammed. Large Christian centers of learning were established not just in Carthage and Antioch, but Mosul, Basra, Herat (in modern Afghanistan) and Tangut (Tibet). Christians served as viziers and counselors to Arab sultans. Christian bishops debated Buddhism with Chinese mystics. There is even evidence that Nestorian hymn books served as the basis for some passages in the Koran. In short, for 1200 years, Europe was not the center of the Christian world, but a backwater.

What changed? The Crusades, a reaction to the Arab conquest of the Holy Land, may have been bad on Europe, but was a disaster for the Christians native to the area. The Mongols, prior to their thirteenth and fourteenth century conquests, were a mix of Muslims and Christians. But when they converted fully to Islam, Christians under their reign fared badly. When the Ottoman Turks consolidated their empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Christians were also rounded up and killed (partially as a reaction to threats from Russia and Western Europe – Christians were spies or worse). Of course, Muslims were not the only threat: the Catholic Church’s missionaries of the seventeenth century often tried to “convert” the Christians they found in Asia.

Despite all those challenges, tens of millions of Christians remained in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia in 1900. Copts, Chaldeans, Maronites, Greek and Armenian Orthodox, Syrians and Nestorians still retained enclaves. Remarkably, what truly made those areas nearly entirely Muslim, as we know them today, are actions taken in the last 100 years. The Turks massacred the Armenians in 1915 and Greek Orthodox in 1922, a genocide that still causes significant political rancor today when mentioned. The British formed the Iraqi state just in time for the killing of Assyrians and Chaldeans in 1933. The French formed Lebanon as a refuge for the Maronites, and we all know how that has turned out. In a final bit of under-reporting, the American invasion of Iraq has been devastating to the few Chaldeans still remaining in Iraq, with 80% – 90% of their population now dead or migrated from that country. 

Through all of this ugly history Jenkins remains fair, unbiased, and even handed; quite an accomplishment. He presents few heroes or saints in his tale of the faithful killing in the name of their religion. If you enjoy upsetting your worldview, and learning some history you probably missed in school, its worth a read.

Boys will be Boys

1 Oct

The first paragraph of this pretty much says it all:

A Christian university in Oregon said Tuesday it has punished four students who confessed to hanging a likeness of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from a tree on campus.

George Fox University broke the news to students and staff Tuesday afternoon at an all-campus meeting. About 1,000 people attended, said Rob Felton, a university spokesman.

A statement from the school said the penalties against the four students were “immediate long-term suspension and public service.” The school cited federal privacy rules in not disclosing more about the students or their punishment.

Sounds like they’re getting off with a slap on the wrist. What’s the point of getting a “Christian” education if you think hanging a black man in effigy from a tree by a fishing line is hi-larious?

A message taped to the cutout read, “Act Six reject.” That refers to a scholarship and leadership program for minority and low-income student leaders at Christian colleges primarily located in the Northwest.

No doubt, Jesus will forgive them. No one else really should.