A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Some Advice for Liberals....

...from Ross Douthat about religious freedom.

"The entire conflict between religious liberty and cultural liberalism has created an interesting situation in our politics: The political left is expending a remarkable amount of energy trying to fine, vilify and bring to heel organizations — charities, hospitals, schools and mission-infused businesses — whose commitments they might under other circumstances extol.

"So the recent Supreme Court ruling offers a chance, after the hysteria cools and the Taliban hypotheticals grow stale, for liberals to pause and consider the long-term implications of this culture-war campaign." NYTimes Sunday OP-ED



Commenting Guidelines


The Greens chose a means of incorporation in which they decided to go as for-profit.  There's a very good reason for this...........they are for-profit and aim to make money.  But, for the sake of argument, let's say that I grant your point.  You disagree about where I think the line of accomodation should be drawn.  Fair enough.  Where would you draw it?  Should it be drawn at all?

Jim, just trying to understand your conservative position better:

You favor Hobby Lobby's exemption, correct?

Would you favor it if the company were not committed to its stated Christian principles? If it were not a closely held company? Is there some criteria of worthiness at work here that you're seeing that I don't? Or are you operating from a generally laissez faire idea that the government has no right to impose Obamacare demands on any company?

One thing I would point out to my liberal brethren is this: Hobby Lobby's exemption from the contraceptive portion of Obamacare may save jobs and health care insurance for its employees. Why? Because companies that do NOT want to have to comply with Obamacare for whatever reason are busily replacing full-timers with part-timers whom they do not have to cover with health insurance. 

You can say that this is the fault of companies who are greedy and don't want to pay decent benefits ... and you'd be right. But it's also a flaw in Obamacare that this loophole exists. 

Companies that replace full-timers with part-timers leave part-timers to buy through the exchange, and they do, but they're more likely to have to be subsidized by the public. Obamacare gets the blame for this from conservatives, not the companies who shed full-time positions. They're just being smart and maximizing revenues. 

But I think the Hobby Lobby decision points out that support for Obamacare is so weak that companies know how to work the system to get what they want, whether it's morally laudable (prevent abortions by not covering them) or not.




Well, considering the nearly universal support for contraceptives in our society, I'm not sure a line really needs to be drawn.  It seems to me that the Administration could have gotten virtually the same result if it said, "if you provide prescription contraceptive coverage it must be provided at no cost-sharing to the insured".  Almost every employer would have complied because they believe contraceptives are a good and valuable employee benefit and providing them might actually lower their health insurance cost.  Only those who strenously object and are willing to undergo the social opprobrium from employees and others would drop the coverage.  Consider this:

According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, though the proportion of Americans with no cost-sharing for contraceptives rose in 2013 to 50 percent from 20 percent, prescriptions written for contraceptive medications increased only 4.6 percent.

It seems to me that the administration picked a issue which would upset a small minority and used that group as a foil to generate support from the much larger group who are largely unaffected by the no cost contraceptives.

That said, I dont see the profit/non-profit line as providing any useful information about the religiousity of the underlying entities.  Requiring a zero level of profitability for them to demonstrate their devotion to their faith is a bar to high, IMHO, particularly since, as Catholics, we believe that lay people are supposed to evangelize their workplaces. 

What will happen when some closely-held company owners claim "I'm not religious but spiritual ... or moral ... or ethical ... or ....."

Will their claims for exemption be given equal weight?

How about the "nones" who, nonetheless, believe that their non-religious status has equal weight in their lives as do the religious beliefs of Duck River Baptists?

Hi, Jean, let me preface my answers by noting that I'm still thinking about many of these issues, and this has been a thought-provoking exchange for me.

I do support the Hobby Lobby decision, as I believe that people, including business owners, have religious liberty rights that should be respected.  If there are broader implications to the ruling, I don't claim to know what they are.

I'd like to think that I'd side with the Greens if they were Orthodox Jews or Sunni Muslims or Buddhists.

Overall, I agree with the US bishops' concerns about religious liberty, even if I don't sign on enthusiastically to all of the tactics of their ad hoc committee.

Whether the distinction between closely held and widely held companies has some validity or utility when it comes to religious liberty is something I'm still thinking about.  For now, I'm willing to see how it works out.  I do believe that every corporation (and every other social structure, whether it be a family, a church or a Dungeons and Dragons group)  has a moral dimension, and that this morality is greatly influenced by and enforced by senior management (either the owners themselves or their proxies who have been hired as executives).  I don't find it problematic or threatening per se that some of those moral dimensions may have a religious foundation. 

I think Obamacare has significant flaws, but I'd rather see people get medical care than not, and it could be much worse.  The combination of the President's executive order and this Supreme Court decision seem to address a couple of the major concerns about Obamacare.  I don't like and have never liked the contraception mandate, for reasons that probably are beyond the scope of this topic.


Health benefits, like paid time off, pension and 401k contributions, and other employee benefits are always touted as part of the employee's total compensation package.  They are paid in cash and non-cash benefits.  You perform the work assigned and in the manner expected by the employer and, in turn, they give you what they promised.

They don't and can't tell you how to spend your cash compensation.  They don't and can't tell you where and how you spend your vacation time.  They provide a range of 401k options, but can't tell you that you can invest in some but not the others.  They don't and can't tell you how you will spend your pension earnings, the cost of which has been shared by employer and employee.

They can't decide or not decide to pay overtime according to state or federal statutes.  They can't ignore OSHA laws.  They can't discriminate in hiring based on gender, race, religion or marital status.

There are many restraints that laws impose that may conflict one's sincerely held beliefs about many things.  There is a cost to taking advantage of the various tax, depreciation and other benefits that come with being incorporated under federal and state laws.

Why should employers be allowed to tell you how to use health benefits, the cost of which are usually (union shops not withstanding) paid by both employer and employee?  Why should they be allowed to restrict some benefits to females when comparable benefits (vasectomies, Viagra, etc.) are offered to males?


Let me recharacterize your arguments. 

1)  Your employer decides your cash compensation;  you can chose to accept it or not.

2)  Your employer decides the parameters of your 401K; you can chose to participate or not

3)  Your employer outlines your healthcare benefits; you can chose to participate or not.  (That is how it still remains, by the way)

4)  Your employer pays you not to show up at work for some period of time; you can do whatever you want during that time.

Yes, there are many government imposed constraints - minimum wage, OSHA, environmental, discrimination - but those are not at issue here.  Some employers have expressed a conflict with their religious beliefs for the contraception mandate and they have the right under the law to challenge that mandate.  And the Supreme Court agreed.

Within very limited parameters, employers define your job and your compensation and your benefits.  You either accept them or move on.  So what exactly is your argument?



Jim P., I find the legal definition of a "closely held" corporation of some help in sorting out my thoughts. According to the IRS, 50 percent of a company's stock has to be owned by five or fewer individuals. So some organizations are more "closely" held than others. Hobby Lobby is a family owned biz. But there are others in which, say five Mormons or Catholics or Jehovah's Witnesses or Hassidim have the power to impose rules or ask for exemptions on behalf of themselves when their views may not reflect the values of all. 

So I'm not sure that using the definition of a closely held corporation to draw lines about religious freedom works for me. I think that was one of Barbara's earlier points, but it's taken me over 100 posts to get it.

Here is an interesting article about corporations, profit, and their corporate charters.

It relates directly to Ross's Op/Ed


The author makes his point well! It also means that we are free to place value and character judgements on corporations and the executives of those corporations need to discuss the moral implications of their practices. Frakking is a perfect example. Companies who practice frakking have a moral imperative to discuss the implication of their practices on the environment and cannot simply say it creates jobs and improves the economy.

Another thing that bothers me is that forcing somebody to buy health insurance that includes coverage of objectionable things wouldn't be a religious burden but forcing the coverage that someone is buying on behalf of another to cover objectionable things is a burden. There is a difference in that they cannot control whether their employee chooses to use the coverage for objectionable things, but the other side of this is that giving the employer a right to object gives them the right to make decisions about how their employees are able to use their insurance.

MOS, I'll try again.  Please define "liberal".  You and the all-knowing Douthart use the word more than a little disparagingly.  Would be useful to know what you dislike.

Myself, I am quite comfortable believing you will soon enough your words rambling around in the same age-old quaqmire in which one finds "religion".

As for your remark "Douthat's column raised a warning flag about the venom and hysteria among liberals. It's worth thinking about--taliban and all." well, perhaps you've heard of the those pillars of reason Louie Gohmert, Ted Cruz and his ever so pleasant Dad, and Jim "Bob" DeMint to name a few. Two are active members of the most powerful legislative body in the known galaxy and the third, after understandably finding Christ in the art of market research, heads one of the most powerful "conservative" talking tanks in the nation.  I will never be convinced not responding vehemently to such utter distortion of reality emanating from individuals claiming to be a voice of reason a useful tact.

BTW, did you notice how convincingly the Supremes stuck to their Hobby Lobby decision reasoning in their decision in the Wheaton College case?  No wait, I'm mistaken.  In point of fact they contradicted themselves.  Goodness, I guess philosophy can be like that.

I take it were back to July 6@7:47 & @10:49. Was that your question: "What is the liberal establishment?" Are you Todd Flowerday?

Why not start with the Democratic party as the liberal establishment? I am a Democrat (a dissatisfied one), that's how I vote, and I contribute to selected Democratic candidates. We could go on to include non-profits in the sexual reproduction advocacy business, Emily's List, the ACLU, the DNC to which I do not knowingly contribute. So am I a liberal? I am not a political conservative. Douthat's point: Liberals probably agree with 75 percent or maybe 80, of what religious and religious non-profit groups teach (such as good works, just wages, the option for the poor, and care of the vulnerable).  Why do liberals insist then on making "reproductive rights," and all that they include under that rubric, the litmus test for their definition of religious freedom?

Well, Margaret, it's been two days ... I guess you stumped the class with that one :-)

It's hard to stick it out through three pages of comments!

Also, factor in that the sex abuse crisis is like cat nip for Catholics.

The fact that the SCOTUS has held that the RFRA applies to for profit corporations is the CENTRAL issue in this case.  All other are insignificant.

Churches and non-profits have certain exemptions from laws that violate their beliefs.  For example: Churches can descriminate on the basis of sex (women preists), religion (members of other faiths) sexual orientation.  They are also exempt from paying taxes and may be exempt from certain other laws (contraception mandate etc.)  Once you broaden religious exemptions to for profit corporations (90% of corp. are closely held) we are well on way to any business claiming a religious exemption from any law they don't like. Ginzburg warned about "blood transfusion mandate" exemptions and Scientologist "mental health mandate" exemptions.  The "right" of as corporation to descriminate against gay people will be litigated soon enough. Alito has brushed these concerns aside by implying that he won't go there but the only way he can decline to give exemptions in those areas is by finding that those religious beliefs are less important than Hobby Lobby's in this case.  Do you really think it is a good idea for the courts to decide which religious beliefs are important enough, and which are not, to get a special religious exemption?

Posner is wrong.  True, a church is an" artificial entity" that recieves certain exemptions from the law.  So is the Flynt's "HUSTLER Corp.".   Following your logic, since a church gets tax exempt status, shouldn't Hustler also?  Because some get something doesn't mean that everyone should get everything.