Hobby Lobby and Birth Control Culture Wars

The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has just made their ruling that corporations like Hobby Lobby can deny providing birth control insurance if it violates the religious beliefs of the owners.

Why?

Why has birth control suddenly become a battleground for American conservative Protestants? There are some oddities like the Quiverful movement that says you are obligated as Christians to have as many children as possible (not sure how to do that if you’re following Jesus or Paul’s advice that it is best to be single). But that movement is pretty small.

Most conservative Protestants are fine with using birth control. In the early years all denominations did oppose it – tied in with the Sexual Revolution – but not much since and not on this kind of organized, political scale. Most will keep using it themselves, often paid for by their non-Christian employers thanks to the ACA.

So why now? It seems to be purely political. A Democrat said that employers should have to help employees meet basic health requirements. They as good Republicans will fight it every step of the way. They failed to stop it from passing, but they can still argue every single detail to make Hell for their political opponents. Collateral damage is irrelevant.

Catholicism and Birth Control

Catholics have officially held a position against birth control since it was invented. They have reasonable arguments around natural theology that we shouldn’t separate sex from procreation. I personally don’t find it a convincing argument, but when you’ve held that since the beginning I can respect that. You have a genuine reason why you think it is unethical for you to use it. Ok, that’s fine, don’t use it.

The other big difference is that I have not heard Catholics attempting to force this morality onto others. They don’t even really force it onto people in their own churches – the majority still use it anyway and aren’t excommunicated or otherwise punished as far as I know.

In other words, I’m not saying that opposing birth control is unethical. I’m saying forcing others to also not use it is unethical.

The Hypocrisy

Christians can’t do any business practices against Christian ethics? As far as I can tell, though, the only real things that matter in their Christian ethics are opposing gay people having any rights, opposing abortion, and generally opposing anything Democrat even if you didn’t previously oppose it. Most don’t mind that they don’t pay enough for their employees to make a living. Most don’t care that there is barely-paid child labour in their supply chains. Most don’t care that much of their products come from China with their forced-abortion policy. Hobby Lobby don’t even mind investing in birth control manufacturers. Nobody is really complaining how much of their tax money feed the war machine, no matter how clear Jesus was about loving enemies. Gluttony and greed are traditionally counted amongst the 7 deadly sins and are the most rampant problems in America but don’t fall in these “Christian ethics” either. Christian ethics seems to just mean winning culture war.

Terrible Sex Ed

Sex Education is terrible in the U.S. Apparently some picketers held up signs saying that it was a ruling against abortion. Ummm, no. Birth control is not abortion. Some also say that birth control is not medicine and they know this because the rich white man who knows nothing about biology say that it isn’t. They don’t bother talking to actual health experts who will point out that it serves a variety of functions, not just preventing pregnancy – which in itself should probably be considered a medical function anyway.

Corporations vs Women

Which has more rights: women or corporations? The answer determined today was that corporations do. It’s 2014. This should grieve us. Corporations are not people. Women are. Yes, the owners of the corporations are people, but nobody is saying they have to use birth control. There is no corporate right to be infringed here.

The Limits of Religious Freedom

The ruling was clear that it only applies to birth control. But if SCOTUS is at all pretending to be fair, they would also have to allow corporations owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses to deny blood transfusions (whether or not employee is JW). They would have to allow corporations owned by Muslims to enforce strict dress codes for women or maybe not hire women at all. Jains could prevent employees from killing any bugs. There is much more longstanding religious basis for them to be genuinely offended at these things (and Jains probably even have a point with their extreme pacifism). Since they don’t have the power, this probably won’t ever really happen, but it exposes that any claim to this being about religious freedom is a lie. It isn’t religious freedom. It is Imperial dominance.

Typically, you have religious freedom inasmuch as it does not interfere with the rights of others. This ruling is basically a statement of the mindset of might is right: if you have power and you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to! For now in the U.S., that is predominately straight, white, wealthy, Christian men. As @AshleyEsqueda (a tech journalist) tweeted:

Everyone trying to tell me why I’m wrong about Hobby Lobby has been a white dude. Perfect.

To which somebody brilliantly responded “#notallwhitedudes.”

Maybe general respect for other human beings won’t convince you. In that case, think about this. It may be a long time, but this dominant group will change. No Empire lasts forever. Those clinging to Empire now would probably do well to stop and examine Jesus’ Kingdom vision instead, one where all are loved and valuable. Their preference for the approach of Rome over the approach of Jesus will probably come back to haunt them as their power crumbles around them. To use a Star Wars reference, the more you tighten your grip trying to control through fear and violence (this is a form of violence), the more that people will slip through your fingers and ultimately rise against you.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Kristen Rosser

    Good points. What would you say to the counter-argument that the employees can get their birth control paid some other way? It seems to me to be setting a dangerous precedent.

    • I’m sure some can find other ways but many won’t be able to, forcing them through health conditions that could be solved by these drugs as well as raising unwanted pregnancies which directly means more abortions. I don’t know enough of the exact contexts to give any kind of numbers for how many will needlessly suffer for this, but if there is anybody left out of basic life-giving provisions, we cannot celebrate that and call it anything remotely Christ-ian (Jesus-like). If you’re a Christian denying those provisions, you better be making sure you’re going extra out of your way to make sure your employees are getting what they need somehow.

      But it is bigger than that. I would quite possibly start with exactly what you’ve said: it is a dangerous precedent even if the employees can still afford everything they need. It is a problem that the rich corporation is favoured over the just-scraping-by employees who need something. It is a problem that “religious freedom” now includes the ability to deny healthcare to those under your control. It pretty much destroys the efficiency of the employer-paid insurance system, which scares me because I know Americans will not approve of true (government-paid) universal healthcare any time soon and that means there will be a lot of loopholes. Not coincidentally, I think that’s exactly what a lot of the Republican backers of Hobby Lobby were going for, even if not Hobby Lobby themselves. The principle of “everyone deserves basic healthcare” was put in serious jeopardy.

      • Kristen Rosser

        Yes, I really believe what this actually was, was more an attempt to attack and neutralize Obamacare than it was a true conscientious objection from the Hobby Lobby owners. Plenty of evidence points that way, including the fact that they invest in the very corporations that make the medications they claim they are against– and that they covered these medications in their insurance with no objections until Obamacare came along.