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On abortion, Hobby Lobby looking wobbly.

The owners of Hobby Lobby want you to know they take their moral commitments seriously. The Green family's stores don't sell shot glasses. They're closed on Sundays. They don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer shipments. As supporter Ben Domenech pointed out, all those practices "could make them money, but they just bear the costs." The Greens are so serious about their Christian beliefs that they've made a federal case out of their objection to paying insurance premiums that would allow their employees to choose to receive contraceptive products that the Greens deem no different from abortion. "I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate," Domenech wrote. "They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference...rather than compromise their beliefs." Except now it looks like they've been doing just that--for quite some time.

At Mother Jones, Molly Redden reports that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan "held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." And Hobby Lobby makes significant matching contributions to the 401(k)--nearly $4 million in 2012, according to the company's 2013 disclosure to the Department of Labor. In other words, Hobby Lobby invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans--products they believe cause abortions. As Redden notes, other holdings in Hobby Lobby's mutual funds include companies that make drugs used to induce abortion, drugs administered during abortion procedures, and insurers that cover surgical abortions.

This raises an obvious question: If the Greens are so committed to the belief that they cannot in good conscience pay health-insurance premiums that might result in employees using products that could prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, then why are they OK with spending millions annually on companies that manufacture drugs that will certainly cause abortions? In other words, as Nick Baumann put it, "either remote cooperation with abortifacients is a red line for you or it's not."

Now, the Greens aren't Catholic, but their argument is essentially that they should not be made to cooperate in any way with the provision of contraceptive services they consider definitely or potentially abortifacient. That is, they cannot abide what Catholics would call remote material cooperation with evil (in this case, abortion). Of course, it's arguable that to the extent that they've been paying insurance companies that cover elective abortions--like the ones in which they invest on behalf of their employees--they are already remotely cooperating with what they consider evil. Because most insurers do cover elective abortion for some customers. But apparently that doesn't trouble them. What disturbs the family's conscience is paying for coverage that might end up preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

The problem for Hobby Lobby's argument is that investing in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that enable contraception and abortion is different from paying for insurance that enables an employee to choose whether to use services the Greens object to. Hobby Lobby selects the funds it invests in. As Redden points out, if the Greens wanted to, they could have chosen funds that screen out so-called sin stocks (they tend to perform as well as other funds). But they didn't. (Hobby Lobby's legal counsel, the Becket Fund, did not reply to requests for comment.)

Hobby Lobby's employee health insurance used to include the contraception services the Greens don't want to cover anymore. Obamacare did the Greens a favor by waking them up to the realities of the health-insurance market, so before filing suit they canceled coverage of the services they consider morally objectionable. But they seem have not been so scrupulous with their investments--and investments are a different animal. The cooperation is more direct.

Basically Hobby Lobby is saying to these fund managers: Here's our money. Make more of it for us doing what you do. From a moral-theological perspective, that brings Hobby Lobby significantly closer to the "evil" in question than would any premium payments that could allow employees to use contraceptive services. First, in the United States, benefits are considered part of an employee's compensation. Second, employees might not avail themselves of such services. Third, if the Greens decided to stop offering health coverage, employees would most likely end up buying plans that included contraception on the health-care exchanges. (Obamacare does not require any employers to cover drugs designed to induce abortion.)

What might last week's oral arguments have sounded like had this been reported earlier? Hard to say. But who would want to defend a plaintiff claiming that any role facilitating the use of potentially abortifacient drugs is inimical to its religious beliefs but who can't be bothered to figure out whether the millions it invests annually directly supports the production of drugs that always cause abortions? And if a justice or two starts wondering how sincerely Hobby Lobby holds the beliefs it says ought to exempt them from the law, who could blame them?



Commenting Guidelines

I just don't get it. David Green claims that they provide 16 out ot the 20 contraceptives - four they believe, scientifically correct or not, to be abortafacients.

I wonder why couldn't this have been resolved without all this hype by going to the Supreme Court.

I find interesting how our Catholic Church hierarchy, who preach that contraception is a sin, can hang their hat on a Supreme Court case brought by an evanglical group who up until recently were miltantly anti-Catholic. Even more astounding is that an evangelical group would meet with our pope and in their conversation seek his approval of their case. 

I guess we've come a long way in ecumenical dialogue.

Inconsistency is one of the factors that could undermine a claim to sincerely held religious belief. Of course courts are loath to pass judgment on the sincerity of stated religious beliefs. But merely claiming sincerely held religious beliefs in court doesn't mean judges won't ask you about them.

The government could have raised questions of sincerity in the lower courts, but it didn't (wisely, I think)

The government's brief to the Supreme Court says:

The Greens’ sincerely held religious opposition to certain forms of contraception is not subject to question in these proceedings, and their personal beliefs merit the full measure of protection that the Constitution and laws provide.

Yes, I'm aware. But of course this news just broke, so lower courts weren't aware that the Greens have been involving their company and employees in what they consider illicit cooperation with evil for quite some time.


A modest proposal for the Mother Jones hypocrisy sleuths:  expose all groups and individuals supporting Obamacare who take advantage of the exceptions, waivers, accommodations, delays, loopholes etc., that are only selectively available.  For follow-up stories, assess their degree of sincerity and their worthiness to press their claims.


Forgive the tangent, but speaking of the sometime tone-deaf Posner, here's some more of his wisdom:

"Health insurance may even induce some people to take worse care of their health: the lower the expense of treatment, the less benefit one derives from prevention, including nonmedical preventives such as a healthy diet, exercise, and avoidance of dangerous activities."




Margaret O'Brien Steinfels:  The $2000 tax as an alternative to employer-provided health care was absolutely necessary for three reasons:

1.  Without it, the SC would have found the ACA unconstitutional.  Conservatives were up in arms about the federal government compelling economic activity ("you are legally required to eat your broccoli!").  The only way to make the ACA constitutionally defensable was to structure it as a tax with a tax deduction if the employer provided adequate insurance.

2.  It was designed to provide a defense for claims of religious freedom exactly like those being promoted by Hobby Lobby.  Again, HL is NOT required to provide insurance covering things they regard as immoral.  They simply lose their tax deduction and have to pay the $2000 tax.

3.  Since running a health insurance system is very much subject to economies of scale, a smallish business (say 51-200 employees) might find the cost per employee of setting up a health insurance system prohibitively high.  The $2000 tax arrangement says to these smallish companies that if the size of your workforce makes this task difficult for you, pay the tax and the government will do it for you.

And the act should not and is not intended to encourage employers not to offer insurance.   If the employer does offer insurance, that is still encouraged because the cost is still tax-deductable beyond $2000 (although that deduction is now capped). 

And the intent is not to require the employee to pay full freight.  The $2000 tax is intended to compensate the government for the subsidies that the government will pay the employees who get insurance on the exchanges. 

And, MO'BS-  you didn't call me a libertarian, did you?  Say it ain't so!

Patrick Molloy:  Paul Krugman didn't suddenly drop his guard and let the truth escape, he's been saying for years that the ACA is unwieldy but the best we can have given political realities.  Given the corruption in congress, any major initiative has to buy off scores of interest groups (in this case the doctors, the health insurance companies, the medical supply companies, the drug companies...)  If we want nice, clean, well designed laws, we have to do something about congress.

There are no more hearings in this case. Presumably, the SC Justices voted on the outcome at their conference last Friday, so the decision has been made and some one of them has been assigned to write the opinion which we will see in a while (probably June)

 the $2000 is comparable to the cost of providing insurance


This is way off the mark.  

Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,351 this year, up 4 percent from last year, with workers on average paying $4,565 towards the cost of their coverage (and the companies paying the balance of $11,786) according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust 

And the intent is not to require the employee to pay full freight.  The $2000 tax is intended to compensate the government for the subsidies that the government will pay the employees who get insurance on the exchanges.

Yes. And the employer doesn't have to pay anything if no employee buys a policy that the government has to subsidize (improbable, of course). 


If this is a 401k plan, the company picks the mutual fund offerings and the individuals direct the investments which they are free to change at any time.  Further, the company does not receive any of the investment returns from the mutual fund investments, those belong entirely to the employees.  Finally, as someone else noted, the mutual fund companies can and do change the investments whenever they determine an alternative company better fits the investment objective outlined in the mutual fund offering document.

Everyone who reads you knows you disagree with Hobby Lobby's position on the ACA, why resort to mudslinging by publishing this piece?

I just knew I could count on Commonweal bloggers to figure out how to discredit an organization which has the chutzpah to question the use of some contraceptives. The assumption is that they are deliberately investing in these evil entities while claiming an exemption to pay for them on moral grounds. Does the practice of the golden rule require us to assume the worst of the Green family. I live in Oklahoma where Hobby Lobby and the Green family is widely admired. Their minimum wage for full time employees is $14. Lots of Oklahomans would probably not relate well to the legal issue before the Supreme Court, but they would believe that there must be something to this if this family and company is involved. They wouldn't know that "back East" there are folks who have adequate leisure time to read a journal like Mother Jones and then to delve into research on one of its articles for the purpose of--wait for it---to find some information to support the Green family in their Supreme Court case. I don't know how this case will turn out, but I do believe that some contraceptives ought to be called afterceptives because they are administered sometime following an act of intercourse to dispense with a pregnancy which may have barely gotten underway. The Catholic Church holds this same position, but then by that term I mean those bishops who don't really understand this business because they don't have to risk being pregnant. Those neanderthals reject the whole concept of reproductive rights because it is a euphemism for the right to choose an abortion under any and every circumstance.

It's not mudslinging, Bruce. And I exlpained what you re-explained above. Hobby Lobby could have offered their employees a "sin-free" investment option. It did not, which is strange for a company that's asking the Supreme Court to protect its moral purity by allowing it to opt out of covering "abortifacients" for its employees--while at the same time allowing them to make money off of the production of abortion drugs.


Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,351 this year, up 4 percent from last year, with workers on average paying $4,565 towards the cost of their coverage (and the companies paying the balance of $11,786)according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust 

So the employer would break even by paying the IRS $2,000, increasing that worker's salary by $9,000/yr, and keeping the $786 to cover the employer's share of payroll taxes on the increased salary. 


Of course, the insurance the employee would buy on the exchange with the $9,000 would include the contraceptives HL objects to. 


Of course. But there is always some reason, I assume.  I simply put the question why cast doubt on  the Greens' sincerity when the government acknowledges it and it has nothing to do with the outcome of the case. They are not public figures except in the context of this case, and if they disappeared the issue would be decided in another of the dozens pending, including Conestoga, the case argued with Hobby Lobby. The critique, if you will,  looks like gratituous and uncharitable denigration, especially since the state of mind and conscience of the Greens are  in the end unknowable. 

Except in the context of this case? It's a huge case. It concerns the most significant legislation in decades. This is news, William. Kind of a big deal.

The Greens have held themselves up as religiously bound to avoid cooperating with the provision of drugs and devices they believe could cause abortions, yet they offer their employees the opportunity to profit from the sale of abortion drugs, and even match some of their funds. That's a problem for the Greens' argument. And there's nothing uncharittable or denigrating about pointing that out.

"Uncharitable denigration"? Maybe. But hardly gratuitous.


I do not think you can find one mutual fund which has an investment policy which specifically excludes companies which manufacture, or distribute or sell contraceptives or abortifacients.

Btw, I see in your article this similarity to the gospel of the man born blind from Sunday over whether his blindness was the result of sin:  the disciples, like the Pharisees, are more interested in assigning blame than extending mercy and healing.

Did you just proof-text me as a person? Nicely done. Anyway, no, you're wrong. If you want to offer "sin-free" investment options to your employees, it ain't hard to do so.

Bruce-  my point was that the $2000 tax is not a punitive or prohibitive penalty, it's something that HL can very well afford to do. If the tax was $50,000 per year per employee, I'd have to agree that HL was being coerced.  Since the $2000 is on the low side, there is no coercion.

I probably should have said "comparable to the minimum cost of providing insurance" i.e. offering bronze level insurance to a workforce that is mostly single or else not the primary breadwinner in the family.

It seems to me that this case is a particularly complex and difficult one because, unlike most civil cases, the *motive* of the Hobby Lobby people in refusing to do something is germane:  it is a *religious* motive and thus a constitutional issue.  

Inless you can prove it is a hate crime, if I refuse to sell you my house because I know my neighbors won't like you, my motive for doing so is irrelevant, and, similarly, if I call you a swindler, my motive is also irrelevant unless it was a hate crime.  But the Hobby Lobby's motive is *apparently* not a hate crime and is a genuinely a religious one *according to their OWN standards of religious".  Until there is some strong evidence to the contrary -- that it was not really religious -- it seems to me the law is on their side.

Perhaps we cannot be the judge of whether we're acting according to our own religious criteria.  (This sort of issue arises in canon law in cases where the plaintiff seeks annulment of his/her marriage.)  But the Court hasn't really decided that one, so far as I can see.  It has decided only that a religious group can decide who are its ministers. 

Bruce - you sarcastically state: 

"Btw, I see in your article this similarity to the gospel of the man born blind from Sunday over whether his blindness was the result of sin:  the disciples, like the Pharisees, are more interested in assigning blame than extending mercy and healing."

Read my post at 1:52 PM.  Talks about the two footprints of catholic social teaching - charity and justice.  (or we could borrow your terms, mercy and healing)

That charity and justice (or mercy and healing) is extended to all folks (not just to owners who have a specific religious understanding).  In fact, would suggest that the Green's appear to act more like the Pharisees (by blaming folks for possibly using certain contraceptives) rather than extending mercy or healing.  So, who is the *man born blind* in the gospel in terms of this SCOTUS case?  You seem to be confused about those who think they have *no sin* because they are concerned enough to forbid four contraceptives that may or may not cause abortions....sounds like the Pharisees in the gospel story.  They weren't interested in the man born blind; rather, they condemed because Jesus used mud (physical labor on the Sabbath).

People do not always know specific companies in their mutual fund portfolios. Some mutual funds substitute stocks without consulting with owners.

It's my understanding that most mutual funds do buy and sell the companies in their portfolios depending on financial performance.  That's why they periodically send out lists of companies they're invested in.

William H. Dempsey:  Yes, the Greens have sincere religious convictions.  

What the Supreme Court is being asked to decide is whether a CORPORATION can have sincere religious convictions when (1) a corporation is an inanimate object, a legal entity rather than a flesh and blood person; and (2) unlike, say, the Salvation Army, Hobby Lobby's primary business is not proselytizing a religion but selling craft items.   

How can a corporation be considered a single person?  ISTM the big mistake here was made back when the Court allowed itself to describe a corporation as a "person".   It's a metaphysical impossibility for a group s persons to simply intend to form another person and, voila', the baby is there.  

So just what is the ontological status of a corporation?  It's not a three-dimensional thing, obviously. That makes it something on the non-material, spiritual level, though not a spirit itself.  I'd say that a corporation is a set of relations (intentional ones, both cognitive and affective) among the owners of the corporation.  That makes them in some sense "personal" though not a single person.  And it's just sheer nonsense to even talk as if they're somehow a real person.  How far back in common law does this silliness go?  


Ann, I think the primary purpose of a corporation is to limit the financial liability of the business owners, so that barring actual criminality, their potential loss from business decisions and operations that go wrong is no greater than the value of their investment.

How you get from a practical device like that to personhood I don't know. It is a little jarring—I know this is not a legal argument—to hear people claim in effect, "If one of our stores accidentally blows up and kills a hundred shoppers, we are not personally responsible. But if one of our employees takes a certain pill that our insurance plan made available, we are personally responsible."

Humans! Where would we be without them?

 To follow up on John Prior's insight, the Greens are a corporation for tax and legal puposes, and their corporation, thanks to the Supreme Court, is a person for moral purposes. You and I, as individual persons, do not get all the rights the Greens get as corporate persons, but the corporate Greens get to avoid duties we have as individuals.


So just what is the ontological status of a corporation?  It's not a three-dimensional thing, obviously. That makes it something on the non-material, spiritual level, though not a spirit itself.  I'd say that a corporation is a set of relations (intentional ones, both cognitive and affective) among the owners of the corporation.

Hi, Ann, I don't claim to know the definitive answer to your question, but here are a few data points that may be relevant to considering the question:

  • Pretty clearly, the government considers that corporations are moral actors, as it regulates them and punishes them (cf fines levied on Wall Street financial firms).  Of course, this raises the question, "Was it really Bank of America that gamed the mortgage market, or was it Bank of America's specific managers and employees who gamed the mortgage market?"  And indeed the government also regulates and punishes certain classes of individuals as well - directors and officers, and employees like stockbokers who are licensed.  Both individuals and corporations are regulated and disciplined.
  • The Catholic church, in its social teaching, recognizes that social structures like corporations (or schools or families or governments or markets or industries - and theoretically even a religious denomination) can be "structures of sin" - that individuals can be organized into a set of social relations that are dedicated to sinful activities, and the set of social relations makes it difficult to completely assign individual culpability, as well as making it diffficult to tear down the sinful structure
  • This is a step apart from corporations, but i think it may point to the same sort of thing: In Chicago, the educational establishment has formerly embraced (and may still embrace - I am not certain) a program of educational reform for underperforming schools, the most extreme intervention for which is known as the "death penalty".  It involves - I am not sure how else to put this - "killing" the school: every leader, administrator and teacher is fired or reassigned, and an entirely new staff is brought in.  The idea, which is controversial and probably isn't proven to be effective, is that those poorly-performing schools consist of a set of social relationships (e.g. between principals and teachers, between teachers and parents, etc.) that is so dysfunctional that they must be broken, a fresh team brought in, and new relationships established.


While the law does treat a corporation as a "person", it seems to me that treatment is due to its status as a single entity.  But rather than argue about how it cant be a human person, I think a more fruitful discussion would be whether an association of human persons - in this case the Green family - loses their ability to act according to their religious beliefs simply because they band together in an association called a corporation.  Many of our church entities are actually corporations.  Should they lose their ability to act according to religious beliefs simply because of their legal structure?  If so, what legal structure would you suggest given there are basically 3 choices: sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation?

With respect, Mr. Blackburn, why does anyone have to, or want to,  make up his or her mind about "this case" if you mean how the Greens in particular come out?  About the issue and how the court's decision will affect others, of course. And even if someone entirely foreign to the Green case had some interest,  there is no way in the world that this particular case could be relitigated not that anyone absent a trial can in reason question the outcome, most certainly not on the basis of some extrajudicial reporting by Mother Jones and Commonweal. 


I intended to use my terms - mercy and healing - as a subset of your term of charity but not justice.

And my reference to Pharasees and disciples was to those commenting here, not to the Greens or their employees.

Finally, I believe that Catholic Social Teaching requires everyone receive medical care.  At the same time, it does not teach that contraception nor abortion are medical care.  So to try to use Catholic concepts to justify the provision of those services can only be wrongheaded, IMHO.

Well, Stockton, I might phrase it more neutrally,  i.e., whether Hobby Lobby as a family corporation is a "person" within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," but essentially I agree. The question of how to differentiate a family corporation and its relgious commitment from General Motors is a complex one. My comments have not related to these issues, but to the gratuitous, to me,  assault on the Green's sincerity, as to which I concur with you.

MS. Stockton. My apoligies for a trigger-happy finger.

I tire of repeating this, but this extrajudicial questionting of the Green's sincerity is not "a problem for the Green's argument." This is precisely my point. Right or wrong -- and it cannot be establshed in the pages of Mother Jones or Commonweal one way or the other -- it will have absolutely no impact on the outcome, nor on the outcome of any other case. If you were to say that the government ought to ask the Court to vacate the grant of certiorari as improvidently granted and remand for reconsideration in the trial court, you would be advancing an arguably legitimate contention. That would, however, shift the focus to your disadvantage to the principles governing judicial inquiry into religious beliefs. Here, my guess is that Commonweal would not want to challenge the traditional severe restriction on such inquiry, which would be necessary were the court to open the door to all evidenence possibly bearing on sincerity and grueling cross-examination designed to destroy a religious believer's credibility. 

The government conceded the Green's sincerity with good and praiseworthy reason. Commonweal does the principles of religious freedom no service but dissenting. 

John - that is illegal......any 401K fund management company has a legal obligation to notify its customers if investment changes are made.

You might want to study up on 401K laws and policies.

Thanks, but we will have to agree to disagree. 

Yep, CST states clearly that insurance is a right - flows from the dignity of each person.

CST also lays out a foundation in which you start with that person's dignity (which, whether you or I like it involves the right to make choices, freedom to decide, and the responsibility to make our own moral choices).  The Green's want to use this foundation personally (it is all about their religious convictions)but then restrict or restrain others' use of this foundation.

You will not agree but the majority of catholics have moved way past the issue of contraception - so, let's start with the limited view of the Green's....four contraceptives that they feel cause abortions.  Again, against medical, professional, and scientific evidence they insist upon their rights.  CST would not go to this extreme would be a balancing approach (both/and) realizing that humans may at times make poor choices.  CST would start with where people are at - thus, understanding that poverty, economics, education, family dynamics, etc. all impact decisions about contraception  (and, in some cases as I linked to above on HIV, contraception may be a duty and not sinful (using your narrow sense of this). 

Fact - abortion has nothing to do with this decision either when you come right down to it.  If the Green's religious beliefs can't be questionned; then, those of us who look for a catholic moral stance that is a merger of faith and reason (thus, using science, medicine, etc.) accept that these 4 contraceptives are just like the other 16 contraceptives (despite the passionate but misguided view of the Greens).....and, more to the point, in a wholistic CST approach, realize that these 4 contraceptive means have been proven to be highly effective in reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortion rates for the poor.  That sounds like a valid CST approach.

This CST approach also respects the basic dignity of each person to make their own family decisions - it is attached to a *common good* approach (COMMONWEAL) rather than the very individualistic approach of the Greens.

You appear to delete justice because, in your view, the Greens are applying justice....unfortunately, this is an arrogant approach that is Pharisaical - who made them judge and jury. Thus, IMO, it is only wrongheaded if you continue to hold on to a *cultic* approach to birth control.

And, William, I tire of reading it. Apparently you believe anybody who isn't a Supreme Court justice should shut up about this case because nothing can be done to alter its course. But the Greens have made a public argument about a contested issue. That means anybody can critique it. If the Court rejects Hobby Lobby's claim, will you have nothing to say about it? I rather doubt it.

Mr.  Dempsey, I understand your point.  I understood it the first time you made it, many hours ago. I simply disagree with you that that this one case iis all there is to it.

When I was a young scribe, we were cautioned never to write, "The Supreme Court decided, in effect, that..." The Court decides cases, we were told, not effects. But nowadays it's sometimes hard to tell how it has come to its decision in a specific case, so sweeping are the dicta that ornament it decisions. Try finding the law amid all the half-baked politicsl philosophy in yesrerday's salute to the power of money.


Bruce, thanks for that link to Matthew Shadle's post at Catholic Moral Theology.  It covers some of the same points that have been made here, in a helpful way.

It reminds me that there is yet one more bit of complexity in this that hasn't been mentioned yet (at Ieast I don't think we've discussed it), and that Shadle also passes over, but which may be important in considering the moral remoteness or proximity:

In much of the discussion, the operative word, the key verb in what Hobby Lobby or its employees have been doing, is "invest".  These retirement funds are invested in mutual funds, which in turn invest in companies that manufacture morally problematic products.  But what does it mean to "invest" in a company?

"Invest" is a bit of an ambiguous word, as it covers a number of different types of transactions, each of which may have somewhat different moral implications, or at least that invite moral analysis.  For example, is the moral implication of a bond investment different than the moral implication of a stock investment?  I'd think that, for the person who hasn't actually thought it through, the answer isn't obvious.

But let's assume that the mutual funds under consideration here engage in stock trading: the funds buy and sell the stocks of companies that manufacture these morally problematic products.  I'd like to make a distinction here between the primary stock market and the secondary stock market.  The primary market is the world of IPOs (Initial Public Offerings): they are a fundraising scheme for companies that need to raise capital in order to grow.  If I purchase a company's stock on the primary market via an IPO, my money flows to the company, and the company puts my money to work - say, by building a plant to manufacture an abortifacient.  If I were to invest in the company this way, I may be liable to some pointed questions directed my way by the folks who advocate socially responsible investing.

But what most of us think of as "the stock market" is the secondary market.  This is the marketplace in which shares of stock are bought and sold after the initial offering.  A major pharmaceutical manufacturer whose stock is publicly traded will have a very diverse set of stockholders, typically consisting of many thousands of different entities who are buying and selling on the market.  And here is the key point: if I buy AstraZeneca stock on the secondary market, the money flows to whoever owns the stock, which probably isn't AstraZeneca.  I say "probably" rather than "certainly" because publicly-traded companies do trade in their own stock on the secondary market.  

Now, even though I purchased the stock on the secondary marketplace from some entity other than the manufacturer itself, there may still be a financial connection between me and the manufacturer.  There are two basic ways to profit from a stock purchase on the secondary market: the price goes up, at which time I sell; or the company issues dividends to the stockholders.  If the company issues me a dividend, it is pretty clear I have profited from the company's activities, some portion of which might be attributable to the problematic products.  But the more common way to make money on the secondary market is by selling the stock when the price goes up.  And the relationship between a company's sales and its stock price is extremely complicated and often indirect.  Publicly traded companies frequently announce a profitable quarter, only to see their stock prices fall.  

The point of this discussion is to illustrate that we shouldn't divine a direct financial link between the mutual funds and the manufacturers of problematic products.  To say that a mutual fund "invested in" AstraZeneca is an ambiguous statement, and it's quite possible that no money in those transactions flowed between the manufacturer and the mutual fund.  On the other hand, it's also possible (although, in my judgment, less likely) that there is a direct financial link between the parties.

Please don't take this as an attempt to whitewash Hobby Lobby or the mutual funds.  I'm just trying to introduce some relevant facts into the discussion.


@ William Dempsey:  You really, seriously believe that SCOTUS justices are not affected by what is in the media?  They read don't they?  They watch TV don't they?  Of course they are!  They're politicians.

In case you've forgotten, they even intervine into elections to appoint their preferred candidate.

Scalia and Thomas [Clarence actually authored yesterday's McCutcheon majority opinion!?!] have been dipping their beaks in the right-wing, corporate money trough for decades.  Where have you been?  Both have extensive links to the infamous billionaire kookie Koch brothers.  Like any political prostitute, they know what their corporate masters expect of them.

Removing Tweedledum and Tweedledee - along with the other Catholic choir boys on SCOTUS - is rapidly becoming a patriotic imperative if our constitutional government is to be preserved.

If SCOTUS finds for Hobby Lobby, along with Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, this judicial triumvirate will comprise the greatest judicial travesties since the Dred Scott and Plessy decisions.

" Both individuals and corporations are regulated and disciplined."

Jim P. --

Yes, sometimes individuals *as such* are disciplined, but only too rarely.  As to disciplining corporations, metaphysically this amounts to an action against the network of people that own the corp.  I don't deny such action.  But to claim for other purposes that the corp. is really a person is just ludicrous.

"The Catholic church, in its social teaching, recognizes that social structures like corporations (or schools or families or governments or markets or industries - and theoretically even a religious denomination) can be "structures of sin""

Jim -- This time the Church (or the CDF) is also wrong.  Yes, there is concerted evil action by a group of people with one evil end.  But it is the individuals who are guilty, not some super-person subsisting apart from the relationships among them.  And sometimes those "sinful" structures include individuals who do not intend what the group does.  For instance, if an honest businessman opposes the false advertising of his company, he is NOT responsible for that "sinful structure", though he is sometimes part of the group in some ways.  As I see it, it's this very sort of misplaced group responsibility that results in stereotypes that can be so destructive of the social fabric.

You also say, "The idea, which is controversial and probably isn't proven to be effective, is that those poorly-performing schools consist of a set of social relationships (e.g. between principals and teachers, between teachers and parents, etc.) that is so dysfunctional that they must be broken, a fresh team brought in, and new relationships established."

What you describe here is actually what happened to the New Orleans School System after Katrina.  All the teachers were fired, including some good ones. Later some of the teachers sued, and I think they have a case.  But it is also true that the system is flourishing as it never has done before.  Does the end justify the means?  Hmmm. But this calls for another thread.

JP - amused - you just wrote 9 paragraphs trying vainly to explain away, excuse, and defend the fact that the Hobby Lobby has a 401K fund and manager that invests in the very corporations that make and profit fromt he 4 contraceptives that they are so outraged about.

You need to educate yourself on 401Ks - the rules and policies in terms of corporations, etc.  You are ignoring the reality that setting up a 401K plan for the corporation requires energy, a process, and due diligence (appears that the right hand of Hobby Lobby was not in tune with the left hand of Hobby Lobby).  You also ignore the fact that until 2012, Hobby Lobby bought and paid for medical plans that covered contraceptives (all of them).

So, you can try to manipulate; explain away with the old dodge  (remote, distant, immediate, partial, etc. material cooperation) but no amount of doublespeak will wash away the fact that Hobby Lobby's 401K involves a more direct corporate involvement than any provision of the ACA and its contraceptive clause.

But, heck, keep twisting and talking in the wind.  You just might convince even yourself.

I believe some groups of nuns invest in problematic firms precisely in order to influence them for the better.  So a ban on such investments by the virtuous might be unwise.

Bill - I'm glad I gave you some amusement.  But I stand by my explanation of the ambiguity of the word "invest".  You'll have to explain to me why the rules governing 401(k)'s are relevant to that ambiguity.

This might help think about it: I happen to think that large tobacco companies are involved in a morally problematic business.  I wouldn't want to be a supplier or channel partner to one.  But even as an individual investor (which puts me several degrees closer to the transaction than Hobby Lobby is in the case under consideration), I might not have any qualms about buying their stock on the secondary market, for the reasons I explained in my previous comment.  Am I wrong?  If so, why?

 And I don't consider the notion of remote cooperation  with evil to be a "dodge".  In my view, it's a legitimate concept.  What's wrong with it?  At least one Commonweal editor has deployed it to support the contraception mandate accommodation for Catholic hospitals and universities.  Is he wrong, too?


Yes, sometimes individuals *as such* are disciplined, but only too rarely.  As to disciplining corporations, metaphysically this amounts to an action against the network of people that own the corp.  I don't deny such action.  But to claim for other purposes that the corp. is really a person is just ludicrous.

Legally, a corporation is a person - if it wasn't, it couldn't be sued.  If you want to call it a legal fiction, I don't think I'd argue.  

Ontologically, it's not nothing.  As you noted, it's not a thing you could drop on your toe such that it would make you hope around in pain.  But not everything is reducible to individuals.  The social connections and organization make it somehow a real entity.  

I've commented in the past on the notion of social capital, and how its dearth in our contemporary society is a real problem.  The reality of social capital points to the reality of the social structures that generate the capital.

The problem of the assignment of culpability to a social structure is one that I don't underestimate.  I tend to the idea, as I think you do as well, that somehow the culpability of a social structure like a corporation should be reducible to the individuals who make up the social structure.  But that can be problematic, too.  Practically speaking, it is usually the people at the top who bear the culpability.  That is one reason that the officers of companies are paid high wages: they can be named in lawsuits.  That seems to conform to our intuition that the leaders should be held responsible for the misdeeds of the organization.  But we who have considered so many instances of the sex-abuse crisis know that abuse and cover-up has many contributors at different levels of the organization.  I am sure the same is true of securities fraud and, perhaps, of an underperforming school.


John and Bill,

All mutual funds are operated in accordance with an Investment Objective which is included in their prospectus.  This objective can be quite specific such as this one for the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund: 


The Fund employs an indexing investment approach designed to track the 

performance of the Standard & Poor‘s 500 Index, a widely recognized benchmark of 

U.S. stock market performance that is dominated by the stocks of large U.S. 

companies. The Fund attempts to replicate the target index by investing all, or 

substantially all, of its assets in the stocks that make up the Index, holding each stock 

in approximately the same proportion as its weighting in the Index.

Or allow much more discretion, such as this one for the Vanguard Windsor Fund:


The Fund invests mainly in large- and mid-capitalization companies whose stocks are 

considered by an advisor to be undervalued. Undervalued stocks are generally those 

that are out of favor with investors and that the advisor feels are trading at prices that 

are below average in relation to measures such as earnings and book value. The Fund 

uses multiple investment advisors.

In each case, the funds can and do regularly change the stocks they own without notifying the investors.  Both of these funds are widely held in 401k's and the changing nature of their underlying stockholdings is in no way illegal provided the fund's remain within the bounds of their stated investment objectives.

You appear to delete justice because, in your view, the Greens are applying justice


Nope.  I just think this blog needs alot more mercy and healing.  And I pray that our God exercises alot more mercy and healing because otherwise I'm doomed.

"But not everything is reducible to individuals."

Jim P. --  True -- groups are not *reducible* to them, but a group necessarily includes indiviuals as parts, and those parts (in a coporation) can act indepenently of each other, and sometimes even contradictorily to each other.  What I'm maintaining is that *relations are real*, just as real as your toe or a brick that falls on it.  They exist, they have ontological status, but not independently of the things they relate.  Intentions, whether thoughts or feelings or will-acts, are all relations ("beings-toward" to use Aristotle's term)  to something or other.  They are what tie things together, sometimes forming very real groups.  The groups are also real.  But they have no existence apart from the individuals and relations that constitute them.

I do agree with you that the higher ups generally are responsible for the morality of their choices.  The problem too often is that the owners don't really know everything that is going on at the top, and there's no way for them to find out


See “Hobby Lobby’s Critics Have No Idea How Investments Work” 4/2/14, Ben Domenech

     See also article cited in the above article:

“Hobby Lobby Owners Can Have a 401(k) and First Amendment Rights”, 4/2/14. Ryan Ellis


A peculiar aspect of the Hobby Lobby case is that the corporation is closely held by a very few people - all members of the Green family. Whatever decision the court comes to is apt to be limited to that kind of closely held corporation rather than corporations in general. 

The plaintiffs in the case were both Hobby Lobby as a corporation and the Greens as individuals

The government claims that:

Hobby Lobby can't sue because it is a corporation and can't exercise religion

the Greens can't sue as individuals because the mandate doesn't require them to do anything (it's only the corporation that has to provide the insurance).

So the government's position is that this case should never have been brought because no one had standing to sue.

To which the Greens say (correctly, I think): We control Hobby Lobby. The only way it can buy this insurance is if we agree it should. Therefore, the mandate affects us as individuals. 

In the oral argument, Chief Justice Roberts mentioned that one solution would be to allow closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby to assert religious exercise claims, but to leave the question of whether publicly-held corporations could assert those claims until one does and that case comes to the court. He suggested that it was unlikely that a publicly-held corporation would make such a claim. 

The other possibility would be to throw out Hobby Lobby but confirm the standing of the owners of a closely held corporation to sue as individuals.

But all of that only resolves the question of whether this case should be in court to begin with

Only then can the court move on to decide whether the government has enough of a compelling interest in the contraceptive mandate to justify the burden on the religious exercise of the Greens or their corporation.