Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wrinkle in Hobby Lobby Case: Company's Retirement Plan Heavily Invested in Manufacture of Contraceptive Pills, IUDs, and Abortifacients

With the case Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Green family who own the Hobby Lobby chain have brought to the highest court in the United States a claim that their tender consciences are violated when they are required by the government in any way to cooperate with activities they regard as evil. Specifically, they object to being required to provide contraceptive coverage to female employees in their healthcare plan under the Affordable Care Act. They also insist, contra scientific evidence, that the emergency contraceptives they will be indirectly providing to employees under the ACA are abortifacients.

As their brief (pdf) in this case notes (1c), though they themselves previously provided those very contraceptives in their company's insurance plan for years until they contemplated filing suit against the federal government, they then "discovered" that they had been paying for drugs they now consider abortifacient. The brief stresses the extreme tenderness of the consciences of the Green family by noting (1b) that they "allow their faith to guide business decisions" for both of the companies they own, Mardel and Hobby Lobby. The Greens have committed themselves to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles."

As the brief notes (ibid.), each family member signs "a Statement of Faith and a Trustee Commitment obligating them to conduct the businesses according to their religious beliefs." The brief goes on to point out that they close their shops on Sunday, buy hundreds of full-page newspaper ads at Christmas and Easter to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, play Christian music in their stores, provide spiritual counseling and "religiously themed financial courses" for employees, refuse to sell shot glasses, and don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer.

The Greens are people of exceptionally tender conscience who monitor every aspect of their corporate life--insurance plans to shot glasses--to assure that nothing they do in any way contradicts their biblical principles. And that everything they do proclaims Jesus as Lord and Savior . . . . 

And so as I say, the Green family have taken to the highest court in the U.S. a case that will allow their tender consciences to affect all of us, as they maintain that, by being asked to provide insurance coverage for contraception, they are cooperating in an evil they cannot tolerate, and our law must make special provision for their consciences and the consciences of other corporations that find it burdensome to comply with federal non-discrimination laws when their biblical principles dictate dissent. And given the far reach of their tender consciences and their willingness to involve the Supreme Court (and, therefore, all Americans) in their assertion that they would be forced to cooperate with evil by providing contraceptive coverage through insurance, isn't it strange that they have somehow managed to overlook this astonishing fact?:

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) 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. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

The preceding is from Molly Redden at Mother Jones. As she notes, 

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby's retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby's health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

These include companies that manufacture not only the spurious "abortifacients" (i.e., emergency contraceptives) to which the Greens object in their Supreme Court brief, but outright abortifacients specifically manufactured to cause an abortion. 

Molly Redden's rather sensational disclosures about what Hobby Lobby has managed to overlook as it surveys the operation of its company from shot glasses to back-hauling beer trucks are resulting in some sensational responses. Here's Rick Ungar for the corporation-friendly journal Forbes:

In what just may be the most stunning example of hypocrisy in my lifetime, Mother Jones has uncovered numerous investments on the part of Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund in a wide variety of companies producing abortion and contraception related products.

And that's just the opening salvo in an op-ed statement that becomes even more pointed ("completely unforgivable," "sheer and stunning hypocrisy") as it goes on. 

Here's Grant Gallicho at Commonweal:  

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? 

The thread following G. Gallicho's posting is fascinating to read as a snapshot of where the American Catholic intelligentsia finds itself vis-a-vis the Hobby Lobby case, by the way. I find the tack taken by Commonweal doyenne Margaret O'Brien Steinfels in the thread mind-boggling: essentially, she argues that anyone decrying Hobby Lobby's hypocrisy is herself a hypocrite of the gospel beam-in-my-own-eye variety, and maintains that, well, pension plans are complicated, and who's to say that the Greens simply haven't done the best they can with their pension investments, given all the strictures about how one may or many not invest money in these funds:

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 [sic] 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.

Or, as she says, good luck finding a sin-free investment fund of any kind. (But I had thought the entire Hobby Lobby case is based on their claim that their consciences are so tender, they cannot even remotely cooperate with evil?)

Translated, this appears to communicate that Ms. Steinfels is eager to see Hobby Lobby prevail in the Supreme Court case for which, after all, the USCCB (to whose top leaders she is exceptionally well-connected) has filed an amicus brief supporting the Hobby Lobby case.* It also clearly communicates something equally unsurprising about the attitude of many of the leading tribalist gatekeepers at the center of the American Catholic conversation: this is that they have unlimited boundaries when it comes to accommodating even the most toxic nonsense of the far right, as they ceaselessly police those boundaries to keep anyone even mildly to the left of center out of the conversation.*

What her argument spectacularly manages to overlook, of course, is that the entire Hobby Lobby case rests on the claim that the consciences of the Greens are so tender that they cannot cooperate with evil in even the remotest possible fashion. And that it would be cooperating with evil for them to provide, per government guidelines, their employees contraceptives that they have redefined as abortifacients. 

And that they should be granted special rights as a corporation (one with a tender conscience) to ignore federal non-discrimination laws, thereby setting a precedent for the entire nation if one company after another then uses that precedent to claim special rights to discriminate against, say, those who happen to be gay. Who never seem to be on Ms. Steinfels's radar screen at all, as she talks about what it means to enshrine Catholic values in American culture today . . . .

* No, I'm wrong about this. After I had posted this piece, Ms. Steinfels has posted another statement in the thread saying that she thinks the Supremes should rule against Hobby Lobby, since corporations don't need more rights. She suggests that she was reacting against what she considers "gotcha journalism" in her preceding statements.

** For Fred Clark's similar analysis of the tribalistic gatekeepers of the American evangelical conversation, see here.

The graphic is from the Goodreads page for the works of C.G. Jung.

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