I should have expected the Hobby Lobby decision, given the record of the Roberts court, but it still made we wonder, yet again, if people are paying attention to what we are becoming — or more accurately, what we have become.
Because Oklahoma’s Green family, which owns the company, objects on religious grounds to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act when it comes to birth control options, the women who work for Hobby Lobby cannot make their own personal, moral and religious decisions about their own reproductive rights. In other words, the boss can do as he pleases, and his workers can do as they please, but only if what they do pleases the boss. Welcome to the world of the personhood of corporations and the second-class status of the individual citizens who serve them.
Prepare for an onslaught of cases that allow corporations (now that we would all recognize one if we saw it walking down the street) to pick and choose which laws to follow based on the religious beliefs of their owners. Hobby Lobby may be a “closely held” company, but the Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, was written to protect closely held human beings. The founding fathers not only gave us freedom of religion but, more importantly, freedom from religion.
More troubling to me is the unquestioned assumption that the Green family’s version of Christianity is normative. They have the right to be closed on Sunday (which I admire), hold personal beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality (which I disagree with) and pay their workers more than the minimum wage while importing products made in China under conditions Jesus would find appalling. But in America, they do not have the right to deprive workers whose beliefs are different from theirs the benefits that others are guaranteed by law. Nothing is more un-American.
In case you doubt that not all religious views are equally protected, consider how unlikely it is that a case concerning my religious views would make it to the Supreme Court. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, I wrote commentaries for Oklahoma Gazette against the war, preached sermons against the war and participated in demonstrations against the war. Bill O’Reilly called people like me “bad Americans” for opposing the war, but I did so out of religious conviction.
That’s right, my understanding of Christianity compelled my personal activism.
But at no time did I assume for one moment that I could withhold a portion of my income taxes that would go to fund it. I believe in Christian pacifism, except in the case of self-defense, and my taxes (compelled by my government) were being used to fund something that directly violated my personal religious beliefs. Imagine the court ruling in Meyers vs. Dick Cheney and Co. that a minister’s individual opposition to what he believed was both illegal and immoral should exempt him from paying a portion of his taxes.
You guessed it. That’s never going to happen. That is, not unless I grow up to own a corporation that employs thousands of women whose personal and constitutional rights I can violate because my individual religious beliefs are more important than theirs. This is not a conservative or liberal issue, my friends. It’s a wake-up call.
So wake up.
Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, OKC, and Professor of Social Justice at Oklahoma City University.