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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?

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Quelle surprise!  

I'm shocked that Hobby Lobby owners, despite being devout Christians, are capable of such hypocrisy.

Go figure!  

I still think that Scalia and his posse of Catholic boys on SCOTUS will twist themselves into intellectual pretzels in deciding for Hobby Lobby.

The Green family met with Pope Francis yesterday:

Pope Francis met Monday with members of the Green family, the Oklahoma billionaires whose company, Hobby Lobby, took their challenge to Obama's contraception mandate to the Supreme Court last week....

The Greens are in Rome for the launch of one of their traveling exhibits, "Verbum Domini II" (Latin for "The Word of the Lord").

The purpose of the meeting was to thank the pope for the loan of items to the exhibit from the Vatican museum and library," said Jennifer Sheran of DeMoss, the Atlanta public relations firm that represents the Greens. "The pope did ask how the (Hobby Lobby) case was progressing."

Eighteen members of the Green family met with the pope, Sheran said, as well as 10 members from the American Bible Society. The meeting lasted 30 minutes.

"The pope did ask how the (Hobby Lobby) case was progressing."

The implication here by the PR person is that Pope Francis is vitally interested in the outcome of their case against the contraception mandate currently being decided in our Supreme Court.

This spin needs to be investigated. 

If true, my guess is that a member of the Green family brought it up and the Pope responded with a noncommittal comment.

Although I hope Hobby Lobby does not prevail, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here.  I suspect they just never thought of checking what they were investing in.

That said,Hobby Lobby has an easy out that they are refusing to take.  They can stop providing insurance, pay a $2000 per employee per year tax (which is comparable to the cost of insurance if you consider that many employees will have families) and the employees get insurance on the exchanges. The tax compensates the government for the subsidies most employees will receive.  This is a completely legal and practical way to handle the employer mandate.  Problem solved.

If Hobby Lobby prevails, enforcing any federal law against corporations will be impossible for practical purposes.  A corporation could claim Christian Science beliefs and offer a health insurance plan that that only funds hiring a Christian Science practitioner.  A company could claim religious exemptions to environmental laws or minimum wage laws or industrial safety laws.  And remember, in Dukes v. Walmart, the Supreme Court virtually banned class action suits against employers.  We would be right back in the year 1890 when corporations could do whatever they pleased.

Hypocrisy seems to follow religious absolutists.  As far as their case goes I don't see how they have any legal case at all. They have no right to make ethical judgments for their employees. Period. I don't see any basis for SCOTUS to rule in their favor. But these are sad days for the Supreme Court. 

Pace Paul Baumann, we're talking about degrees of remoteness here.  We're also talking about who is the moral agent who gets to determine degrees of remoteness.

Which is more remote: to pay premiums to an insurance company that pays for an employee's contraception; or to set up a separate corporation under a separate set of directors that puts together a portfolio of retirement fund offerings that employees can choose to pay into and for which the company will match a certain percentage of those pay-ins, each component of the portfolio also under independent direction and investing in hundreds or thousands of different investment securities for periods of time that may range from several years to several milliseconds, a handful of which represent small fractions of ownership in companies whose portfolio of several to several dozen to several hundred different products and product lines may pose moral issues and the fluctuations in whose stock prices may or may not reflect any profit or loss of those morally problematic products?

Who can say?

Saying "neither is problematic" may be reasonable.  Saying "both are problematic" may be reasonable.  Saying "the first is problematic but the second isn't" may be reasonable.

I would say that those who hold a stake in the calculus get to decide.  


Before reading here I saw the Mother Jones article and the first thought that popped into my mind was that "Hypocrisy has become a hobby" with these folks.

Their "lobby" is looking more disgusting by the moment.


 A corporation could claim Christian Science beliefs and offer a health insurance plan that that only funds hiring a Christian Science practitioner.


Yes, and a corporation owned by fundamentalists could refuse to hire Catholics who they know are the "spawn of Satan."

Be careful of what you wish for because it can come back to bit you in your religious freedom aspidistra.

On the earlier post about this, one commenter dismissed this by stating that a 401K plan is not Hobby Lobby - it is a separate entity.

And my response - and how is this different from purchasing a medical plan from an insurance company - the insurance company is a separate enitity.  Really does become ridiculous.

JP - so, what is your point?  In fact, Grant clearly shows that setting up the investment firm is a more direct form of cooperation than purchasing an insurance plan (you appear to disagree?)

Again, from a purely analytical and objective angle, one really does have to seriously question the point of the Greens and the Beckett Fund. 

Might want to repost some of Cathleen Kaveny's earlier posts about birth control and catholic *cults*?

The answer is obvious. Hobby Lobby is profiting from those investments. For conservatives, profit trumps "life."

I expect that someone is now investigating the Little Sisters of the Poor for telltale signs of hypocrisy.  Apparently many are eager to cast the first stone and are not reluctant to issue an immediate harsh judgment, all in the name of minimizing the scope of religious freedom.  Beyond amazing! before filing suit they canceled coverage of the services they consider morally objectionable.

It sounds as if someone (the Becket Fund?) may have been searching for a client here and found Hobby Lobby in much the way the Thomas More Law Center found the Dover, PA, school board a few years ago. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, and maybe even a good thing to have activist law firms sharpening the consciences of the insufficiently scrupulous. Another benefit of the ACA, this one unplanned, is prodding lax Christians to reexamine their remote cooperation with evil.

Still, it's an endless task, because almost anything in this world can be turned to evil by us perverse humans. And is it not, in fact, the bad use we make of things, rather than the things themselves, that is evil? What harm, for example, has an innocent shot glass ever willed? So if the owners of Hobby Lobby want to be safe from all possible contamination, they must stop enabling potential wickedness by paying wages. And as this case shows, they must deal with the most urgent threat by dismissing women employees first. Sad, very sad, but it's the godly thing to do.


Hobby Lobby also sells items made in China, the forced-abortion capital of the world.

Anybody here ever tried to research ways to invest pension funds? There are rules and regs, fed and sometimes state. Employees may have a range of choices. Companies have fiduciary responsbilities to their employees. In the case of 401(k), employees own the pensions, not the company. Amazing that the employees have a pension at all in this day and age. 401(ks) usually involve contributions from the employees and the company. Catching out Hobby Lobby on this doesn't mean their hypocrites. It may just mean they are subject to pension laws, employee choices, and the investment fund that chooses where the money goes. Not so simple.

With all due respect, Ms. Steinfels, the folks at Forbes are rather flabbergasted that Hobby Lobby's inconsistency and claim that every corporation with a 401K has ample opportunity to review and individually select funds that cohere with their goals:

"You may be thinking that it must have been beyond Hobby Lobby’s reasonable abilities to know what companies were being invested in by the mutual  funds purchased for the Hobby Lobby 401(k) plans—but I am afraid you would be wrong.

No only does Hobby Lobby have an obligation to know what their sponsored 401(k) is investing in for the benefit of their employees, it turns out that there are ample opportunities for the retirement fund to invest in mutual funds that are specifically screened to avoid any religiously offensive products."

I would give Hobby Lobby the benefit of the doubt.  If you look at the list of investments here

(see the last page). There are no individual companies listed. All their holdings are in 24 mutual funds with names like "The American Funds Group American Balanced Fund" (that fund represents about $17 million out of $100 million in pension fund money).

There is no indication of which individual company stocks each of those mutual funds holds.

Of course, that information is available and Hobby Lobby could have told someone to check out each of the 24 mutual funds to be sure that none of them invested in companies that produced morally suspect products.  I suspect that they just didn't think of it. 

Since mutual funds go into and out of investments frequently, the only way Hobby Lobby could avoid this problem over a long period of time would be to invest only in mutual funds that were committed to not investing in companies that did things of which Hobby Lobby didn't approve. 


"I suspect that they just didn't think of it."  - No excuse.

Also suggest: Holly Lobby fire the Becket Frund for negligence.  :-)


Hmmm!! Anyone here ever tried to find a totally sin-free investment fund. There are the no tobacco-no liquor ones. There are the no-war materials ones. Then there are funds that don't invest in Catepillar and Boeing, etc. What about funds that buy up water systems, or whole forests, etc.  Good luck!!!

I forgot: the ones that don't use animals in their research.

Catholic support for Hobby Lobby is well nigh universal if the Amici Curiae Briefs filed with the Supreme Court were a true gauge of that support; namely: 67 Catholic Theologians, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Medical Association, Thomas More Law Center, and John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought.

SCOTUSblog lists the all the briefs filed with the Supreme Court for the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases. My list of the Catholic support was based on this list.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the institutional views, but Humanae Vitae is not a First Amendment dogma. I believe John Courtney Murray has said it best:

From the standpoint both of history and of contemporary social reality the only tenable position is that the first two articles of the First Amendment are not articles of faith but articles of peace. Like the rest of the Constitution these provisions are the work of lawyers, not of theologians or even of political theorists. They are not true dogma but only good law. That is praise enough. This, I take it, is the Catholic view. But in thus qualifying it I am not marking it out as just another “sectarian” view. It is in the only view that a citizen with both historical sense and common sense can take.

John Courtney Murray, S.J., We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, p. 56 (1960).



Hey, Ms. Steinfels - well, name an insurance company that doesn't offer medical plans that may cover elective abortions?

And, BTW, while we are being socially consicious, let's look at Hobby Lobby from a comprehensive *pro-life* stance:

- do they sell products manufactured in China or Asia in which both the employees of those manufacturing worksites are barely paid living wages?  may have serious safety/health concerns?

- do they do business that avoids damage to the environment (e.g. trucks, stores, etc.)

Any way, you get the really does become ridiculous just because they have an issue with four contraceptives which may or may not be remote material cooperation.  Can one define *cultic  behaviors*

Right: Beams in everyones eyes!

O tempora, O mores! Senatus haec intellegit, consul videt; hic tamen vivit.


(Well, this IS a Catholic blogsite and Latin seems so very appropriate with dealing with such deep-seated hypocrisy on the part of the Greens)

The issue here is not how difficult it is to find sin-free investment plans. The issue is that a company has tried to make a case to the Supreme Court over an issue of conscience and they have not explored the content of their investments.

This is a big deal, deleting Joe Biden's expletive.

The government opens its argument in its brief with this: "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 the protection that the Constitution and laws provide."  What is Mr. Gallicho's purpose, then, in questioning what the Government does not? It means nothing whatever as to the resolution of the issue. Neither he nor Mother Jones is in a position to question the Greens' sincerity or the government's view of it. As someone recently said, "Who am I to judge?" And if the Greens  be thought by others inconsistent in their judgments or ill informed, of what interest or importance is that? 

Patrick Molloy:  "Apparently many are eager to cast the first stone and are not reluctant to issue an immediate harsh judgment, all in the name of minimizing the scope of religious freedom.  Beyond amazing!"

Mr. Molloy, believe it or not, liberals are not out to minimize the scope of religious freedom.  We want to balance the freedom of employees with the freedom of (much more powerful) employers.  There is already an out for any employer with moral objections to any part of the health care law.  They can let their employees get insurance through the exhanges and pay the $2000 tax.  When you consider that many employees have dependents, the $2000 is comparable to the cost of providing insurance- it's not a punitive tax.

If the Supreme Court finds in favor of HL, it will unravel a major source of funding tor the Affordable Care Act- the tax on employers who do not provide adequate insurance.  An company that pays minimum wage employees and has never provided insurance could claim a religious exemption from providing any effective care.  Many religious people believe mental illness is a moral flaw not an illness:  you would undoubtedly have many employees denied mental health care.  Should a parent have to watch their schizophrenic child disintegrate because of the employer's religious belief?

xuinkrbin:  Can you tell me of any case where the Supreme Court held the  line drawing was up to the adherent?  I know of none.  Those of us who remember the Vietnam war know that the line drawing for conscientious objection was NOT up to the adherent.  The draft law recognized absolute pacifism but disallowed conscientious objection for people who believed in Thomistic "just war" moral theology.  A friend of mine spent 2 years in federal prison because he believed that fighting in Vietnam violated his religious beliefs but admitted he would have fought in World War II.  (It's also the case that polygamy is illegal nationwide, despite the fact that some dissident spinoffs from the Mormon faith require polygamy.)


[email protected]:48: "There is already an out for any employer with moral objections to any part of the health care law.  They can let their employees get insurance through the exhanges and pay the $2000 tax.  When you consider that many employees have dependents, the $2000 is comparable to the cost of providing insurance- it's not a punitive tax.'

Why encourage giving employers an out on providing health insurance? And require the employee to pay the full freight?

Liberal crossing paths with libertarians!

I don't see why Grant has to be so snotty about Hobby Lobby . . . the obvious explanation is that with 24 funds invested in up to 100s of different companies that can change at any time, Hobby Lobby simply hadn't been aware of each and every one of the 1000s of different possibilities. But it's really quite silly to suggest that Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs are somehow insincere -- what, they undertook the expense of litigating a case to the Supreme Court just for a lark and they don't even believe in their own position? Come on. 

William H. Dempsey:  The reason it's anyone else's business is that if an employer providing insurance to its employees is free to object to a medical procedure on allegedly religious grounds, then no employees would ever know if they'll have insurance in a given situation.  Would you like to check out of a hospital after receiving a blood transfusion and being handed a six-figure bill, only to be told that your Jehovah's Witness employer won't pay the bill for religious reasons?

It's significant that no corporation has filed an amicus brief in support of Hobby Lobby.  

Marbgaret O'Btrien Steinfels: Years ago, when Nelson Mandela was still in prison and apartheid was law in South Africa, many investment funds divested themselves of stocks in companies which did business with South Africa.  It can be done.  

Bill - I have several points: (1) in both cases - the insurance case and the 401(k) case - we're talking about degrees of remoteness.  (2) In my view, Hobby Lobby and its employees, not Mother Jones, Commonweal, the federal government nor, of all people on the planet, Joe Biden, should get to decide the permissible degrees of Hobby Lobby's and its employees' remote cooperation with evil.  

What do you think the point is of Mother Jones publishing this piece?  What is the point of Commonweal devoting two separate blog posts to call attention to the Mother Jones piece?  I'm not sure what point there to that exercise except for the one that Patrick has already named.

And yes, as part of point (1) above, I do disagree with Grant.  I don't think setting up a 401(k) (if indeed it is a 401(k) - is that known to be the case?) on behalf of employees, consisting of a number of mutual fund options for the employees to choose from, is a more direct or near form of cooperation with evil than signing a contract with an insurance company, actively working to enroll employees in the insurance company's products, and paying insurance premiums to the insurance company that also, by reason of that contract and activity, subsidizes the employees' consumption of contraception.  Arguably, the 401(k) case is more remote - but, as I've said all along, I also think it's reasonable to determine that the contraception mandate is sufficiently remote.


We live in a world in which evil is abroad.  No news there.  And so we Christians do try to live in a bubble.  That's why we have faith communities.  (Can a corporation be a faith community?)  But the walls of the bubble aren't, and can't be, impermeable.  Part of the cost of living in a society that tolerates a certain amount of evil, is the necessity, as individuals, of learning to tolerate, and even interact with, a certain amount of evil.

Each of us is responsible for figuring out what compromises we need to make with the reality of evil.  Some of us may work for employers whose every action may not always be morally admirable.  I vote for politicians that support abortion.  I vote for politicians that supported the Iraq War.  Many of us, I expect, have family members that have done things we disapprove of or even that have wounded us in some way, but whom we don't shun or cut off.  On the other hand, I also take stands about some things, some of which I've mentioned here in dotCom from time to time.  

I suspect all of us take stands about some things, and let other things slide.  One of the gifts of the church to us is a framework for deciding what to let slide and what to take a stand on.  Hobby Lobby and its owners certainly are fair game for public criticism - they took on that risk when they decided to pursue the lawsuit.


The answer is obvious. Hobby Lobby is profiting from those investments

I don't think it's obvious that this is the case - but it's not obvious that it's not the case, either.

If it is a 401(k) retirement plan, then in my view, whatever profits are generated by the plan morally belong to the employees, not the company.  I suspect that, legally, those profits "belong to" the plan itself, until the employees' holdings are dispersed.  But I don't think that Hobby Lobby can tap into those funds.

On the other hand, I believe there are tax incentives for a company to establish and make matching contributions to a 401(k), so perhaps it's fair to say that Hobby Lobby is financially benefitting from the 401(k).  (But on the third hand, it seems to me that establishing a retirement plan for employees is a virtuous thing, the sort of thing we should be encouraging employers, especially retail employers, to do.  As public policy, I don't object to incentivizing employers to do this - I consider this to be good fiscal policy.  That consideration doesn't really address the question, though, of what if any control the company should exercise in the choice of investments for the employees.)

If the retirement plan is a traditional corporate pension, then perhaps the moral calculus would be somewhat different.  I believe the company may exercise more direct control over a traditional pension.  Perhaps someone knowledgeable about these things could provide more details.

Btw, Margaret, I do go back far enough that I do have a pension waiting for my retirement - it was a perk during my first few years of employment, coming out of college.  I don't think the payout from it upon my retirement, if it hasn't gone belly-up by then - it's rather underfunded - will buy me a cup of coffee every month.  But it's still there.  I expended quite a bit of effort recently trying to track it down.


We live in a country that launched an aggressive war on the basis of what probably a majority of its leading citizens knew or suspected were false pretenses. In our name and for our salvation from terrorism, unfortunates who were designated enemy combatants, although not all were, were tortured. I voted for Barack Obama to put a stop to all of that. He let the perps go unpunished and, despite some slick words, continued the conditions that allow torture. That makes it bipartisan, which means our country will continue doing that sort of thing until someone stronger makes us stop.

Knowing that, It's the almost height of hypocrisy for anybody still living here to go to the Supreme Court over remote cooperation with evil in anything. The height of hypocrisy is when the case goes to court for political purposes.

The problem for "religious liberty" here is "gotcha journalism." The Hobby Lobby Family may (or may not be) sincere, but in a culture with a grossly over-sized legal "community" should we be surprised that they would take their case to the Supreme Court? Getting caught out with pension funds that invest in the companies that manufacture the very drugs to which they object seems immaterial to their claims to the SC. I say that because it is likely that it is the employees who chose the investments from a range of offerings put together probably by an insurance agent or company. In an age of pensionless workers, it's notable that Hobby Lobby contributes anything ($3.8 million isn't that much). This looks like remote, remote cooperation.

The Supreme Court should rule against Hobby Lobby. Corporations, even family-owned ones, don't need more rights than they already have. Will the SC take a lesson from the disaster they created with  Citizens United?

Will the SC take a lesson from the disaster they created with  Citizens United?

Maybe not - I got an alert within the last hour that the SC has also struck down campaign limits.  Don't know what it all means.



Here is the story that the alert I mentioned in my previous comment pointed to.  Looks like there are some limits to the ruling.


Yesterday saw a welcome burst of candor on the part of  Paul Krugman:"I’ve always thought of Obamacare as a sort of Rube Goldberg device. . . It relies on a mandate plus subsidies, rather than full funding via the tax system, in part to keep down the headline spending number. And so on."

In other words, the Obama administration arguments that the conditions of the RFRA (compelling governmental interest, least restrictive means, and substantial burden) have been met and are sufficient to impose a mandate on employers effect a smokescreen so that the CBO rules could be gamed and the numbers would be judged politically acceptable.  A decent history of the ACA would no doubt expose even more acts of, shall we say, lack of candor.  Anyone who paid attention in the last few years is welcome to cite more examples. 


In a better world there would be a hypocrisy of the year award to go along with the lie of the year award.  I don’t think the Hobby Lobby company would come close to winning the former.  The latter, as everyone knows, has already been awarded.

I suppose, on the other hand, if their aim was to discredit HL in the court of public opinion the Mother Jones tactics (even though legally irrelevant) might deserve a Machiavellian of the year award.



Very interesting comment, Mr. Molloy. Obamacare is unnecessarily Rube Goldbergian because it relies 80 percent on the implicit faith and competence of the private sectory (which shows its Republican roots) and only 20 percent on people who care about making it work more than they do about making it profitable. That has been its problem from the start. Unfortunately it has been very difficult to have that argument because of all the smokescreens thrown up by people who oppose, in principle, doing anything for the uninsured. Similarly, Common Core is worse than NCLB on roller skates, but it's impossible to get a hearing for that while the Bush-era initiative by governors of both parties is being pinned to the comparatively innocent coattails of the current president. (I say "comparatively" because, as always, eager to receive affection from the other side of the aisle, the president embraced what is, essentially, the love child of the William and Melinda Gates and the Bradley Foundations.)

With that as background, it should not be surprising if someone who wasn't paying attention to the qualities of birth control pills as an investment when Obama was not president should suddenly get all tense and sweaty about them as a clause in an insurance contract when Obama is president. For the record, I have had contraceptive coverage in my employer (now former employer) policy for more than 25 years and never knew it. If I felt about Obama the way you do, Mr. Molloy, I would be tempted to make something of it now that I know. But for reasons given earlier today, I am not tempted.



@ Patrick Malloy:  Of course the ACA is a Rube Goldberg device!  

It's a Republican idea - the poor dears, they're not that bright.  I'm convinced that much of the rightwing opposition to the law is sourced in that Obama in a brilliant piece of political open-field running adopted Romneycare, but  just adapted it for nationwide use.

[It was a real piece of art how Obama guess right about how the Republican nominating process would turn out in the end, and politically castrated Romney even before the presidential race got underway.  Just brilliant!  If it sounds like I'm crowing, you're right! 7.1 million, baby!]

If you remember, most Democrats favored a "single payer" system like they have in Canada:  Medicare for All!  Most of us wanted at least a "public option."

But NOOOOOOOOOO:  That would have been too much socialized medicine for our right-wing crazies - never mind it would have been a better health insurance delivery system;  never mind that we wouldn't have had to invent all these new "exchanges" and infrastructures because the only thing we would have had to do is expand Medicare overtime to be inclusive of every American.  The bureaucracy is already in place - and the last I check most of my elderly patients just love their Medicare insurance.

Maybe in the not too distant future, California may adopt a single payer system on its own and show the rest of the country how it is done.  California has a huge population - we have the numbers to make the economy of scale work.  All the huffin & puffin in the world by the ACA will not bring down healthcare costs sufficiently to tame the beast.  

The ACA's lenient regulation of insurance companies will not be enough.  Eventually, either America will have to heavily regulate healthcare insurance like we do with public utilities; Or, we will go the way of single payer.  It is all in the economic laws that operate health care delivery systems.

Think of the ACA as a transitional period before we have real singel-payer health care insurance! 

Hobby Lobby's argument is that the contraception mandate burdens its religious liberty because it cannot, as a matter of religious belief, allow itself to participate even remotely in the procurement of drugs and devices it believes cause abortions. A reporter discovered that the whole time the Greens have been advancing this claim their company's employee retirement plan has been investing money in companies that produce abortion drugs. That's not gotcha journalism. It's just journalism.

Hobby Lobby's case turns on financial cooperation. If the Greens refuse to pay for coverage that includes contraception services they say could cause abortions, why are they OK with investing in companies that make drugs designed to cause abortions? That's a fair question. It may not have legal ramifications for Hobby Lobby, but that doesn't mean people who aren't on the Supreme Court can't ask how seriously the Greens take their view of cooperation with evil.

Now, Peggy notes that Hobby Lobby's employees probably "chose the investments from a range of offerings put together probably by an insurance agent or company." True enough. But Hobby Lobby is the customer of its investment firm. If it wanted to, it could ask for a menu that excluded abortion-drug manufacturers. But it didn't do that. In fact, it looks like Hobby Lobby's employees can't even invest in a "socially-responsible" fund. Strange oversight for a family that wants its moral purity protected by the court.

Permalink Angela Stockton: You mist the point. Of couise it's important how the Supreme Court decides the issue. But nothing Mr. Gallicho or Mother Jones say about the Greens has anything to do with that. The government has conceded the sincerity of their beliefs, and that's that. One can only speculate about the purpose of these attacks on the Greens.

There's a difference between an attack and a critique. It would be good if perpetually aggrieved conservatives figured that out.

The question isn't whether Commonweal or anyone else "can" question the sincerity of someone else's sincerity in their religious professions, in this case the Greens', but rather why should they? Here it is irrelevant to the litigation. The government has made it so. And the Greens aren't running for public nor are they TV evangelists. What else might there be?  One possible inference is that the purpose is simply to take a personal whack at people who are advancing a cause with which their critics disagree.  I suppose there must be others. At least I hope so.

This isn't a support group, William, it's an opinion magazine. Where journalists have been known to ask questions about public figures and events.

Mr. Dempsey, The Supreme Court, having ruled in Citizens United that corporations are people (for more than purposes of incorporation), reaffirmed today its solemn holding that money is speech. If the Greens' sincerity is irrelevant to their litigation, anyone's litigation can be irrelevant to common sense. We do need more than the solicitor general's brief or the coming 5-4 decision on the Greens to help us make up our minds about this case.

And, while it is hard to see how anyone can question the sincerity of anyone's religious beliefs, if someone says he worships the sun but sleeps all day one can question his common sense.

Not to worry, Hobby Lobby – the pope is on your side. According to an article on the Catholic News Service website (

“Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., based in Oklahoma City, along with about 15 family members met the pope in a private audience at the Vatican March 31.

When asked whether the pope gave the Green family any words of encouragement, Green, who is a Baptist, said the pope ‘mentioned the issue is important to Catholics.’

"The firm we engaged to defend us has a lot of Catholic connections and he was familiar with that,’ Green said of the pope, adding that the pope also ‘asked when the ruling was going to come down,’ Green said.”


Here is another way to approach this case:

Key points:

- catholic social justice thought starts with the dignity of each person (not a position on birth control medications)

"In the face of poverty, responding to the immediate need is necessary, as is structural change (employment, education, affordable housing, etc). This is why the USCCB emphasizes charity and justice as the “two feet of love in action.”  One of the key elements of her post is the recognition that we are all deeply embedded in personal, familial, social, and cultural realities. Social programs and family life both need to be strengthened to empower those for whom “life is a hill.” We  need a broader and deeper understanding of what constitutes family – so that the inter-generational reality of strong families is captured within our vision of “the answer.” Thus, as she notes, strengthening families headed by single mothers and single fathers can only be done by listening and engaging them."   (this is what the ACA attempts to do vs. the Green's individualistic moralistic belief)

- in the face of much of the argumentation that someone has to draw a line in the sand morally:

"We seem to have hit a point where we are on a merry-go-round, unable to break free from a familiar pattern. Personally, I find it particularly difficult to keep blogging about the same issues – because actual data doesn’t seem to make a difference in the public debate. And yet, I want to make a strong case that the loud and constant debunking of claims about poverty and poor persons is absolutely necessary for the common good. Personal responsibility, as self-determination, agency, and empowered participation is absolutely crucial. Personal responsibility as an ideological weapon is an attack on the human dignity of persons in and near poverty. Part of why I find treating it as an ideological battle cry incredibly dangerous is in doing so one misses the assumption of one’s own moral superiority, which is latent within the use of this language.

NOTE the last line - *assumption of one's own moral superiority*   (whatever the assumed report about the Vatican meeting was, am sure that Francis sees this as a much more complex issue - he lived and worked in the slums of Buenos Aries - he is not starry eyed)

Not one other person in the world has to share Hobby Lobby's belief, as long as they hold it sincerely. They do not have to justify their belief that they should not do this (provide insurance covering contraception).

Even if they were Catholics, it wouldn't matter how many Catholic moral theologians the government could produce to say that this is allowable remote cooperation. Legally, the Greens are the only people who have a right to decide that. 

It should be possible to disagree with them without accusing them of being insincere or hypocritical. 

The fact that the Greens sincerely believe they shouldn't do this doesn't mean that they win the argument. It just gets them in the door for the court to decide if the government's interest in making contraceptives available without cost justifies requiring the Green's to do what they believe they shouldn't do. 

Just as the courts have required Mennonites to pay taxes that help to support wars and Amish employers to pay Social Security taxes for their  employees. Having a sincere religious belief doesn't automatically exempt you from a government program. 

Judge Richard Posner recently gave Notre Dame a hard time because it "advertised" the employee health plan--including contraception coverage available through a third party--on its website while seeking relief from self-ceritfying for the accommodation. Posner wondered whether that might undermine the university's claims about its religious beliefs. 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.

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. 

What the hell is a Hobby Lobby anyway? Some kind of Walmart for scrapbookers?


From this article: Socially responsible mutual funds have become big business in recent years. But some of their holdings may surprise you.

Other SRI funds reflect different beliefs. The Ave Maria Catholic Values fund, which describes itself as "morally responsible," screens out companies that support abortion, contraception, and pornography, as well as those that "undermine the sanctity of marriage." It dropped Eli Lilly from its portfolio after the company offered domestic-partner benefits to its workers, and it won't hold Wal-Mart shares because the company sells condoms.

I am grateful for the internet. Since my personal ignorance of capitalism is vast, to paraphase Ben Domenech, the internet provides ignoramuses like me the opportunity to discover, with a few clicks of the mouse, answers to complex questions regarding 401(k)s - such as, "Can a fund be found that doesn't support x,y and z?"  Yep.

For this reader, Mr. Gallicho's article, along with Mother Jones', shows what good  journalismis all about: dig deeper for the ignoramuses of the world. Take nothing at face value and dig deeper because life is not as sincere, sweet and simple as some would have us believe. This is not to denigrate the Green's; it is to show the complexity of the issues before us. Perhaps when they return from Rome, they can revisit the 401(k)s being offered their employees and provide services that align with their beliefs.

I have heard that the Hobby Lobby employee health plan(s) offered "Plan B " coverage before they decided to dispute the requirements of the ACA.  Had anyone heard that as well?  I know that they have invested pension funds in manufacturers of Plan B, but what about actually providing that as an employee health benefit?

Abe Rosenzweig:  You are correct.  Walmart for scrapbookers is precisely what HL is.

Maybe closely-held corporations with few owners such as Hobby Lobby should be allowed to file class-action suits.

I have heard that the Hobby Lobby employee health plan(s) offered "Plan B " coverage before they decided to dispute the requirements of the ACA.  Had anyone heard that as well? 

Yes, in 2012, they said they had "recently" discovered that their insurance covered Plan B and ella - and had had them removed from  the insurance coverage  (see #55)

With respect, Mr. Blackburn, I suggest that neither you nor anyone else so far removed from the Greens can "make up your minds" about what is in their hearts, most certainly not on the basis of one-sided third party articles by Mother Jones and Commonweal. What will affect many will be the decision of the Court, which will be based upon an assumption of sincerity. That will leave it open in future cases for the question of sincerity to be explored. What is the point of an essentially bootless exercise in speculation about the Greens?


Good grief, man, are you vicariously living out a secret boner for Bob Jones through all of this Greens-boosting? 

Then why haven't they sued against those laws, rules & regs fed & state with the same claim of them infringing on their ability to practice their faith?  If they can file suit against one federal law then....

You conflate insurance with medical care.  CST is about medical care, not the means use to provide it. And contraception and abortion are clearly prohibited by the Church, your dissent notwithstanding.

There's nothing like "sincerity" as a basis for decisions on legal matters:

I sincerely do not like inter-racial marraige.

I sincerely don't want my next door neighbor to be a race different from mine.

I sincerely don't want my next door neighbor to be a religion different from mine.

I sincerely don't want people whose idea of marriage differs from mine to be able to have a marriage.

I sincerely don't like the idea that women are competing in the job market for jobs that men should be having.

I sincerely believe in the practice of plural marriage.

I sincerely believe that I should be able to withhold medical care from my underaged children.

Sorry, but Ellis's argument and facts are only partially correct.

Hobby Lobby/Green's - if they commit to offering a 401K plan, they fund the plan; choose a plan manager (Ellis makes it sound as if this basically absolves the Green's of what has happened); and decide what and how many choices employees have.

So, if the Green's truly are committed to eliminating these four contraceptives, then their 401K choice is speaking out of both sides of their mouth and really does compromise their argument.

JP - you continue to harp on what kind of material cooperation.  Fact - Greens have just as much *cooperation* in choosing a plan manager and employee plan choices as they do in choosing the type or types of medical plans for their employees.  So, my point is that the material cooperation argument (at what degree) is a side issue - the Greens have the control to make these choices - so, why are they different?  It really does smack of hypocrisy.

Ellis also states that 401K plans are not abour the corporation but the employee choices and then he goes off on a tangent about fewer employee choices; fewer or lower 401K fees for employees, etc.  This is a ridiculous and wrong statement - employees only have choices in 401K plans once the corporation and its plan managers choose and then offer these plans to employees.  So, in fact, employees (if they disagree with certain plan funds) can only (in most cases) either choose the lesser 401K plan evils or completely pass on a 401K involvement.  Not exactly a high minded move by Hobby Lobby.

From Francis' Evangelii Gaudiam:

“[I]n preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained… [A]n imbalance results… when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us… If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

“Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.”

“With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give [the faithful] a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance. This is the greatest danger. Let us never forget that ‘the expression of truth can take different forms’.”

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.”

If I understand a significant number of the remarks made in defense of the Green's motives I am expected to believe the Greens are unquestionably capable of discerning in absolute terms the mind of God but not the motives of money launders.  That any experienced adult would even suggest such a notion in a public forum and not expect to be called out is challenging to grasp.

Sweet Jesus, of course they are hypocrits!  The reality is hypocrisy, often enough in large measure, is a requirement rather than an impediment to "winning" a legal case.  Morality and legality are not synonymous.

The right of an employer to apply his personal morals to the investments of his employees' money is doubtful for exactly the same reason that he has no right to an opinion on the coverage of his employees health insurance.  It's not his money.  His obligation is to do what is best for them. 

For quick scholarly debate on potential arguments from the bench in the upcoming Hobby Lobby decision, check out the Religious Freedom Project’s blog, Cornerstone:

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