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The missing angle in the Hobby Lobby debate

In seeking special exemptions, religious groups are ignoring a time-honored way to stay true to their consciences.
Hobby Lobby has a non-legal weapon at its disposal when it comes to defying provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby has a non-legal weapon at its disposal when it comes to defying provisions in the Affordable Care Act. Credit: Wiki Commons

The Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision ignited a storm of debate over the general concept of religious exemption from the law. It has also sparked review of the 1993 Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RRFA) upon which the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling rests.

Allowing such exemptions may seem expedient — a way to avoid throwing out the baby (Obamacare) with the bathwater (coverage of contraception) — but it also strikes me as potentially problematic. Will we, for example, grant exemptions for all religious beliefs, or just the ones we happen to favor?

But let's set those tough questions aside for the moment and concentrate instead on another point, one that I have not heard anyone raise thus far.

Each of us, religious and non-religious, always has an exemption, or at least a way to take exception to a law we regard as unjust. It is called civil disobedience. It can be a very costly option, not one to be taken lightly. But it is, always, an option.

Civil disobedience is consciously choosing to disobey a law you consider unjust or wrong, knowing full well that your decision  may unleash unpleasant consequences. By enduring the consequences, a person can become an example of suffering for a righteous cause. Think of Martin Luther King going to jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for ignoring a judge's injunction against forms of non-violent protest such as marching, demonstrating or picketing. (During his incarceration, King composed the classic and powerful "Letter from a Birmingham Jail.")

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and '60’s, many people disobeyed laws they believed to be wrong. African Americans sat in the front of buses and at lunch counters, which was prohibited. They marched in the streets without permission and showed up to vote in defiance of laws and practices that disenfranchised them. They paid a price for their defiance, but they also attracted more attention — and sympathy — for the cause.

By raising the possibility of civil disobedience I am not agreeing — or disagreeing — with Hobby Lobby's argument about covering certain methods of birth control. I am simply reminding us all — Christians particularly — that there is a long history of using civil disobedience to respond to human laws that we believe violate a higher law.

Moreover, civil disobedience seems a far more noble and interesting path for those who oppose a law on the grounds of conscience than going to court to claim a special exemption.

This kind of civil disobedience is as old as the Bible. In the New Testament’s Book of Acts, the earliest Christians are ordered by the powers-that-be to stop talking about Jesus because they are disturbing the peace. When they respond by saying that they can’t be silent, that they simply must speak the truth they know, that they have no choice, they are thrown in jail — where they keep on doing exactly what they feel they must do.

There is something bold and brave (and typically non-violent) about civil disobedience, beside which the attempt to carve out a religious exemption for your company or clan seems anemic and self-serving. If people, whether on religious grounds or not, believe some action violates a higher law, taking a public stand through civil disobedience sends a very different message than petitioning a court. The CEO and Board of Hobby Lobby could have refused to provide contraceptive coverage and opened themselves up to the lawsuits, fines or imprisonment that followed for their failure to comply with the law.

“Here I stand, I can do no other," declared the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. The recent religious exemption cries instead, “Let me carve out a space, an exception, to go my own way.” Instead of involving a higher law or truth, it asserts an exception for me and mine, and in so doing consigns religious conviction to the realm of cultural practice rather than universal truth.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 7:56 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems rather foolish to start with civil disobedience as a first action when there are legal ways to accomplish a goal. Many things were tried in the civil rights movements before it became necessary to move outside the law. We have been known as a nation of laws and a people willing to be guided by those laws. Refusal to follow them should not be done foolishly but in dire cases. If everyone refuses to follow the laws they dislike, we have a nation of chaos and jails/prisons that are full.

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate

What about the actual hobby lobby employees? They would be denied health care because of this civil disobedience. It would not be an action against a government or other great power.

Also, do you believe in the "Corporations are People" falsehood so much that they be encouraged to commit civil disobedience? Hobby Lobby is not a person, they are a corporation that employs over 30,000 actual people who would be the victims of your scheme.

You gotta think this stuff through, Tony.

andy

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Anthony ~
This is a very insightful article. Thank You for posting it. What you brought out is exactly what some have a hard time comprehending. All original civil rights activities are in fact acts of civil disobedience against the current establishment AND other people. You did an excellent job of bringing this to light!!!

To discount those acts or ignore from whence we came is to remove the ability for individuals to fight for a true balance of rights and freedoms.
Someones rights' or faux entitlements should not come at the expense of someone elses' rights or freedoms. (Sorry for using the word entitlement. I was searching for something less over used and just couldn't come up with a better way to convey the message and appreciation for your insightful message and our lack of ability to remember our origins.)

jmr57

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Corporations are not individuals. Write this on your hand.

andy

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 10 p.m. Inappropriate

Hobby Lobby Incorporated:
From the Hobby Lobby website... Hobby Lobby began operation August 3, 1972 with 300 square feet of retail space, located in North Oklahoma City. This was a retail outgrowth of Greco Products, a miniature picture frame company, founded by David Green in 1970. In January 1973, the operation was moved to a house near N.W. 23rd and Western, and the amount of retail space was increased to approximately 1,000 square feet.Over the years this modest beginning has grown into 476 stores which operates in 40 states.

Hobby Lobby is a privately held Arts and Crafts chain of stores. It is not publicly traded so there is no ticker symbol.

Although it may be registered as incorporated, it is privately held by a FAMILY of PEOPLE.

You may at your on digression go and do your own research. The author of this article is correct about what he wrote, whether you like it or not. Laws are changed as a result of civil disobedience; being a leader - not a follower.

jmr57

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate



Wrong. It is not privately held. Hobby Lobby is a closely held corporation, which a specific IRS classification which includes almost 90% of all US corporations.

These corps are now permitted to discriminate on the basis of any religion.

Read the dissent by the three who happen not to be Catholic men:

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/3-female-justices-dissent-in-first-post-hobby-lobby-contraception-case

To say that corporations should engage in civil disobedience is ludacris.

andy

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 6:26 p.m. Inappropriate

http://www.forbes.com/companies/hobby-lobby-stores/

#135 Privately held company

jmr57

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for reminding us with such great insight about the existence of the concept of civil disobedience. Wow, what an idea! Probably hardly anyone has actually internalized this complex and abstract notion. But Tony, what do you actually think about the issue, without so much circumlocution?

gabowker

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Businesses aren't very good at civil disobedience because they have assets at fixed locations that can easily be confiscated by the government under color of law, no matter how flawed the law is. The Hobby Lobby stores can't be gathered up and locked in a jail cell in Alabama. But they can be seized and auctioned off to the highest bidder, and there goes the owners' ability to exercise civil disobedience. It happens all the time in totalitarian states, and the more the federal government interferes in areas that the Constitution gives it no power to interfere in, the more the actions of our government will take on the cast of authoritarianism.

dbreneman

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 6:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm a bit mystified that you are focusing on 'form' and not the realities of power. Civil disobedience is speaking truth to power, and is the purview of human beings. Why would the corporate powers, those who already own our government, have any need to use such a tactic?

The real issue with that ruling is that it violates the clause of not establishing or respecting any particular religion. Rulings could come about now that approve actions by any cult.

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 9:35 a.m. Inappropriate

well said

andy

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 6:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Poor Tony. He thinks this is about religious principle, rather than about money and power.

ivan

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