Friday, March 28, 2014

Religious freedom doesn't mean being free to force people to follow your religion

     The arc of history bends toward freedom. If you want to understand what has happened over the past decades and centuries, what is happening now, keep that premise in mind. In the past, people were controlled by institutions, which dictated the details of their lives, telling them how to worship, work, dress, think, behave.
     Then gradually, individuals stood up and claimed the right to make those decisions.
     Look, to take one example from Chicago history, at Pullman, the South Side neighborhood that once was the company town for the Pullman Palace Car Co., which manufactured luxury railroad sleeping cars.
     If you worked for Pullman, you lived in Pullman’s town by Pullman’s rules. George Pullman chose the books in the library you could read; he decided what church you could attend. He didn’t like drinking, so residents could not buy liquor. The only bar was at the Florence Hotel, named for his daughter — the idea being that visitors might want to drink, but his workers could not.
     Few today would cast an envious eye on Pullman. We in the leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook don’t say: “You know, Allstate is big here. Let’s let them decide what kind of birth control we use.” That wouldn’t fly.
     Yet, right now, in 2014, a case is being discussed by the United States Supreme Court whether Hobby Lobby, a chain of 500 arts and crafts stores, can decide for its 13,000 employees what kind of birth control they use. The company is required to provide health care under the Affordable Care Act and is trying to opt out because some employees would make decisions that are not in keeping with their employer’s religious beliefs. That is a given in most places, but the owners of Hobby Lobby consider it oppression.
     In case you think this matters only in far regions, there are 23 Hobby Lobby stores, plus one opening soon, within 50 miles of Chicago, and if the law goes in the company’s favor, it could affect not just employees but everyone with a boss.
     The company is owned by zealous Christians, who argue that by letting their employees have full health care coverage, which includes such contraception as IUDs and morning-after pills, which the company owners view as a kind of abortion, it would violate the company’s religious rights.
     The company’s religious rights. Versus the rights of the people employed by it.
     Wonder how the case will work out?
     Repeat after me: The arc of history bends toward freedom. (A familiar ring to that; maybe I’m channeling Martin Luther King’s “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That too).
     Funny. If the issue were something far less significant — say, the type of toothpaste Hobby Lobby workers could use under their dental plan — there would be clarity, and the case would have been laughed out of court. But the issue becomes more clouded because it involves a religious scruple — abortion or, in this case, contraceptives — and because the restraint is being forced on women, a group whose rights are still open to debate.
     The women on the court see this clearly. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked, could not employers object to any medical procedure: blood transfusions, say, or immunization?
     The Hobby Lobby lawyer said the courts would evaluate each case, which is no doubt true, and a glimpse of chaos.
     “So one religious group could opt out of this and another religious group could opt out of that, and nothing would be uniform,” Justice Elena Kagan observed.
     Exactly. There are many religions in this country. Some people are so in thrall to their own faith they forget that and try to claim that the nation should favor one, invariably their own, oblivious that to favor one would be to favor all. If a Muslim-owned company tried to insist its female employees wear veils, Hobby Lobby would respond in vibrating horror. Yet it would blithely force its own will on employees. Hypocrites.
     You don’t have to go back to Pullman’s day to find companies dictating the details of employees’ lives. If a flight attendant grew too old, or gained weight, or had children, an airline would simply fire her.
     Little by little, freedoms were won — first for men and, then, lately, obviously only partially, for women. The battle continues.
     This case is really very simple to decide. Ask this question: Should individuals be allowed to make their own religious choices? Or should their employers choose for them?
     A toughie, I know. It’s so hard to give others the freedom you demand for yourself.
     How does this end? Hobby Lobby loses. Maybe not this case, now, but eventually. Because, as I said at the start, the arc of history bends toward freedom.



  1. Unfortunately, we have five ultra right wing loons on the Supreme Court & they want us to go back to the 18th Century!
    I have a terrible feeling that they will overturn this part of the law, although is the government's lawyers had made the Muslim argument about requiring women to wear veils, then the rational people might have had a chance!

  2. Neil,

    Part of the problem is that the administration did a "bait and switch" on the ACA. Stupak and several other pro-lifers in Congress whose votes were essential to pass the ACA received assurances from the White House regarding abortion. After the law was passed, those assurances went by the side as Sibelius created a mandate which has companies pay for contraceptive methods that many consider to cause abortions. Personally, I agree with you. You should not have one set of rules for religious employers and another for everyone else because that violates equal protection under the law. However, I can understand why Hobby Lobby and many other people are outraged over this. They were lied to by the administration and its supporters in Congress. You can read Stupak's account online at:

  3. Hobby Lobby's health care plan already was paying for some of these supposedly outrageous methods and practices and had been for some time before the company was recruited by conservative groups to do battle with the black Muslim devil. I'm sorry. I'm very tired and I no longer believe any plaintiff in any American court has any sincerely held religious belief in anything. If people want to spread the Gospel, they should go to Saudi Arabia and preach it in the street. Then I will be impressed. I'll even light a candle for them.

  4. If precedent means anything this case should be dismissed. But with this court, who knows? It is not just recent judicial history that would be overturned, If Hobby Lobby prevails in this matter that noise you hear will be Madison and Jefferson spinning in their graves

  5. I'd like to agree, but I am worried for women. Look what's happening in Texas (shudder) and other states where anti-choice laws are being contested and upheld. It feels very strange to live in this modern world with so many mind-boggling advances, yet still be struggling for basic rights.

    I don't understand the linking of abortion with contraception. If you're horrified by abortion, wouldn't you be all in favor of contraception? That makes sense, right? Or is it just me? Contraception can prevent abortions. So decide which is more important to ban. And perhaps one day, in the distant future, when we've colonized space, we will rejoice at being granted the right to control our own lives.

    1. Some forms of contraception -- IUDs -- slough off the fertilized egg, which to sex-obsessed busybodies desperate to jam their faith down anybody's throat, looks like abortion.

  6. Actually, the latest scientific studies show that emergency contraception--the morning after pill--only works by preventing ovulation. It's not in the woman's system long enough to affect the uterine lining at all.

    If it worked by preventing implantation, it would be the "week after" pill, since fertilization takes up to 3 days following sex and implantation occurs 10 days after that.

    There's no evidence that regular hormonal birth control or IUDs prevent implantation, though that was the belief in the past about IUDs. Again the most recent studies say that's simply not the case. The fact is over half of fertilized eggs fail to implant even if no contraception is used. Funny how these people aren't throwing telethons to save the poor fertilized eggs being "aborted" naturally.

    These facts mean nothing to the Greens of Hobby Lobby or any of the other people obsessed with controlling women's sex lives. Emergency contraception is not abortion, no matter how much the Greens want to believe it is.

  7. By the way, the Catholic Church obviously isn't entirely opposed to contraception, since they authorized the "rhythem" method in the 1930's. A contradiction I always found puzzling, as did Mr. Menckin, who wrote "Catholic women wanting to enjoy sex without getting pregnant can now avail themselves of mathamatics, although they are still denied resort to physics and chemistry."

  8. My grandfather, who was not a Protestant, was forced into some evangelical sect in the earlier part of the last century, if he wanted to keep his job and his boss could get away with it. Thank goodness that isn't the case now (unless one is at Wheaton college.)


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