July 16, 2014

I Was Going to Say That

So, when the Supreme Court announced the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, I was immediately seized by the need to write something satirical about it.  I got about this far, before I ran out of spunk (as often happens with satire):
SCENE: A boardroom on a bright summer morning.  Sunlight streams through an animatronic stained glass window depicting Eric Idle singing the "Money" song.
My closely held brethren in profit, welcome to this, the annual feast day of the holy Hobby Lobby.  Before I go further, let me thank the sisters for the wonderful coffee and baked goods upon which we feast this day.  Although, please, ladies, no more danishes?  The Danes, of course, are godless communists and we have no room for that here at GloboCorp.
And sisters, if you wish to stay while we speak, please sit down in the back of the room and be quiet?  Blessed are thou.
It would have continued in that vein, feasting the holy Hobby Lobby as the paragon of how to make even more money by appealing to the name of God.  As I had written up for insertion later:
Muhammad, my brothers, may have moved the mountain, but he did not increase the bottom line.
But, as I said, I ran out of spunk and it sat there for a bit.  Then, along comes Kathryn Pogin, writing at the New York Times philosophy blog (it's a thing) and she, while not aiming for the snark I was going for, hit what I think are all the high points of why the whole Hobby Lobby thing is such a miss.

To begin with, science and the actual world has little to do with Hobby Lobby's objections:
Some corporations that have objected to the contraceptive requirements of the Affordable Care Act, like Hobby Lobby, claim that they do not wish to discriminate against women by denying them access to contraceptives generally, and that their opposition is merely to abortion. However, their understanding of which medications act as abortifacients rests on an outdated understanding of medical science and is at odds with the facts of the matter. Use of these contraceptive methods is not tantamount to abortion, and moreover, providing women with access to safe, reliable contraceptives for free drastically reduces the actual abortion rate.
Nor does it matter that Hobby Lobby's concern about particular contraceptives is of recent and dubious vintage:
Hobby Lobby offered coverage for some of the contraceptives it now claims its religious faith forbids it to have any association with, until shortly after the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom asked it if it would be interested in filing suit. The company continues to profit from investments in the manufacturers of the 'objectionable' contraceptives through the 401(k) plan it offers its employees. Recently, Hobby Lobby has faced legal trouble for false advertising. It has built a fortune, in large part, by selling goods manufactured in China, infamous for its poor labor conditions and related human rights violations. These are the practices of a corporation that will emphasize the Christian faith of its owners when convenient and profitable, but set that faith aside when it would be costly to do otherwise.
What Pogin overlooks, or ignores (it's a philosophy blog, after all, not a legal one), is that none of those considerations were relevant to the Supreme Court.  Neither the majority or dissent were willing to take on the substance of the company's stated beliefs and how they interacted with the real world.  This, quite correctly, is a feature not a bug - the government, including the courts, shouldn't be in the business of deciding the truthfulness or sincerity of religious or similar beliefs.  But therein lies the rub - because those beliefs are off limit from official inspection, neither can they be a basis for a get-out-of-obeying-any-regulation-I-don't-like card.  The Supreme Court got it right in Smith.  Unfortunately, Congress saddled us with RFRA (which was the controlling law - not the First Amendment), another nasty gift of the Clinton era that keeps on giving.

Having said all that, Pogin also gets exactly right the actual impact of the decision on women and why the "it doesn't ban anything" argument rings hollow:
This is economic coercion. Opponents to the contraceptive mandate have insisted that women remain free to purchase whatever health care services they choose, but this is woefully insensitive to the reality that low-income women and families face. For these women, there is a very large difference between what is available to them for purchase in principle and in effect. It is easy for those who do not regularly face desperate decisions due to financial insecurity or medical complexities to forget the difference. An intrauterine device, for example, can cost a low-income full-time worker more than a month’s wages. For some women, this is both the safest and most effective medical option, yet hopelessly unaffordable.
Pogin has another interesting angle, too, that being that Hobby Lobby isn't even a good Christian, but that's a hunt in which I have absolutely no dog.

At the end of the day, the question is whether Hobby Lobby is as limited in its impact as the Court seems to think it will be.  I, honestly, can't see a way to distinguish the exemption approved there from the ones the Court seemed to clearly think were different, but I sometimes lack imagination.

I guess we'll have to wait and see after GloboCorp finds Jesus, huh?

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