Hobby Lobby, freedom, and compulsion
As the so-called “Hobby Lobby case” (which also includes another defendant, a company called Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation) reaches the Supreme Court, several excellent summaries of the underlying issues have been created. The Heritage Foundation produced a short video, which begins with the interesting approach of pointing out that the families who own these companies are the true defendants in this case, not faceless corporate interests:
As Heritage policy analyst Sarah Torre notes in this video, a point often lost during the Left’s frantic efforts to rewrite the narrative of this case is that the defendants aren’t objecting to financing all forms of contraception; they have more specific objections to abortifacients. The Left, on the other hand, is trying to push a bizarre argument that the core issue at stake is “access” to contraceptives, particularly by women… as though victory by Hobby Lobby would make it even slightly more difficult for women, including those employed by Hobby Lobby, to obtain contraceptive supplies.
Writing at The Federalist, Gabriel Malor makes this argument Number One on his hit parade of “Six Lies the Media Tells About the Contraception Mandate Case.”
The New York Times’ Adam Liptak puts it right there in the first sentence: “The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case that pits religious liberty against women’s rights.” This could not be further from the truth. Women will have the same constitutional rights to acquire and use contraception regardless of whether Hobby Lobby wins or loses. More than that, they’ll have the exact same rights as they had before the contraception mandate was a gleam in Sec. Sebelius’ eye. What women won’t have is the right to force other people to pay for their contraception, but that has never been a right recognized by the Supreme Court.
In the Bizarro World of the newspapers, not paying for someone else’s contraception is the same thing as prohibiting them from purchasing and using them themselves. This is an obviously false equivalence, but one that leftists are bent on telling themselves. No matter how many times you point out that the business owners in these cases aren’t preventing their employees from purchasing and using contraception, a smug leftist will smile and say “but women’s rights, you see,” as if these magic words excuse the lie.
That’s perhaps the essential issue in this case, from the leftist point of view. Enshrining this new idea of “access” meaning “someone else pays for it” would be an enormous victory for authoritarian collectivism, with far-reaching consequences. There are plenty of goods far more directly relevant to the daily well-being of men and women alike than birth control. Aren’t we being denied access to food by the requirement to pay for it?
Also at stake is the power of government to pass final and absolute judgment upon religious belief, which the Left wishes to exile completely from the public sphere. Religion is supposed to be a quaint custom you practice in isolation, without any public policy ramifications whatsoever, including the assertion of individual dignity against the power of the State. A key issue in the Hobby Lobby case will be whether the government has a “compelling interest” in forcing people to supply birth control supplies in violation of their conscience. That bookends Malor’s list of six big media falsehoods:
This claim is complete bunk. First, the vast majority of businesses provided contraception coverage for their employees before the mandate became effective and continue to do so now that it has. Only a small number of businesses, most of which are not very large, are seeking an exemption based on their religious belief. Second, Sec. Sebelius has already exempted 190 million people from the contraception mandate, either because they work for non-profit corporations or because their plans were “grandfathered” when Obamacare became effective.
In short, when 190 million people are purposefully exempted from a law, there can be no argument that it is aimed at a compelling purpose. Providing broad exemptions intended to go on in perpetuity demonstrates that the contraception mandate is the opposite of compelling.
That’s a fine logical (and legal) argument. It’s funny how this is the one ObamaCare mandate that never gets waived, even though a fairly small number of people are affected by it. There is no way to make a reasonable case that allowing the Green and Hahn families to follow their beliefs would inflict great damage upon any broad public interest in the availability of contraceptives, which are hardly an expensive or exotic commodity. The Left’s hysterical exaggeration of the case, and the radical Obama Administration’s dogged insistence in fighting it to the bitter end, give away the presence of a larger agenda, which is impervious to the reasoning Malor deploys. They want to assert that any and every interest of the Leviathan State is more compelling than anyone’s religious beliefs. (Well, almost anyone’s. These crusaders might enjoy pushing evangelicals and Mennonites around, but their swagger quickly dissipates upon contact with a certain other religion.)
The war on religion is a war against individuality. Limited government relies upon a belief in higher authority, which no transitory body of politicians can offend. The Founders, of course, invoked this authority by name, and while it’s not at all necessary to be religious to accept the notion of inalienable rights, it’s definitely helpful. A libertarian atheist is perfectly capable of embracing limits to government power, defined by a sphere of inherent rights that people cannot even give away voluntarily, but it’s rather convenient – and powerful – to make the point by speaking of “God-given” rights. Religious belief, conversely, is not an automatic pathway to limited government and individual freedom, but it can be a potent force impelling large numbers of citizens to value those principles.
We have arrived at the razor’s edge of this conflict between conscience and authority. To the authoritarian leftist (“liberal” is an increasingly inappropriate label) the contraceptive agenda should not be even slightly inconvenienced by individual objections from people they regard as oddballs. The relatively trivial nature of the controversial birth control supplies – freely available at minimal cost everywhere, and often distributed for free! – only makes this a more useful issue for winning a culture war against both individualists and religious believers. The prize waiting for the Obama Administration on the far side of this case is compliance. The Ruling Class has many more compulsory agendas in mind for us all; if they can force people – under threat of millions of dollars in fines – to comply with this trivial demand, they will have permanently devalued individual conscience. They will have broken us – not just the religious community, but everyone who might harbor moral objections to inescapable central planning.
If the Green and Hahn families lose this case, there will be plenty of dedicated atheists in the coming years who live to regret it. The State will have gained immense power to judge the moral validity of objections to its plans. A great cultural push toward collective authority and obedience will have gained ground that will prove difficult for free men and women to recapture.