For the last two weeks of July, Faitheist is being guest hosted by Sarah Jones, Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The piece below is written by Jones; the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

Demonstrators rallied at the Supreme Court on June 30 before the justices sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs. RNS photo by Heather Adams.

Demonstrators rallied at the Supreme Court on June 30 before the justices sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs. RNS photo by Heather Adams.

The Supreme Court has delivered its verdict, but controversy over Hobby Lobby v. Burwell staggers forward. Observers continue to parse the case’s implications for religious liberty and, like many of them, I’m troubled by what lies ahead.

It seems clear that the high court’s ruling allows individuals to turn the secular, for-profit corporations they own into a vehicle for imposing their religious views on others. That, in turn, dangerously undermines the First Amendment.

But not all agree, and Hobby Lobby’s supporters aren’t limited to the religious right. The conflict at the heart of the debate is an economic one, too; there’s no way to escape the fact that it pits workers’ rights against employers’ beliefs.

As a result, the case’s outcome has also divided secularists, who’d normally balk at the prospect of expanding religious exemptions to federal law.

Politically, secularists are united primarily by their agreement the government shouldn’t endorse religion. Beyond this, the movement is subject to the same ideological factions you’d find anywhere else.

That’s to be expected given the nature of the cause. Support for a secular government doesn’t necessarily demand support for a particular economic philosophy; secularism is, and should be, a non-partisan issue. But when closely held corporations are granted unprecedented rights—including the right to exercise religion—the implications for secularism are inescapable.

That presents a significant challenge to its advocates. Secularism is, after all, a very old idea. And although it’s guaranteed by the Constitution, it’s unlikely that the architects of the First Amendment could have predicted a future in which such massive corporations exist—let alone corporations that can exercise religion.

Even a decade ago, secularists would have been at a loss to anticipate the Hobby Lobby case. That much is clear from the history of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Passed in 1993, RFRA was inspired by a Supreme Court verdict inhibiting the free exercise of Native American religions, and it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Those supporters included many church/state separationists, who believed the bill would protect the rights of minority religious groups, and ensure that everyone receives equal protection from the government. That was, and is, a staunchly secular cause.

By ruling for Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court interpreted RFRA far differently than most of its original supporters anticipated. Now, instead of functioning as a horizontal right that provides equal protection to employer and worker, the principle of religious liberty has been effectively turned on its head and weighted in favor of employers.

The ruling negatively affects a remarkably broad spectrum of the American population; anyone, really, who falls anywhere outside the Evangelical tradition professed by Hobby Lobby’s owners. And that makes it a matter for the secular movement to address. If the owner of a for-profit corporation can wield such significant influence over the medical care his employees access based on nothing but his religious beliefs, the rights of his employees necessarily suffer.

After all, there are plenty of people of faith (and atheists) whose belief traditions condone or even encourage contraception use for family planning purposes. And there are many women who require contraception for the treatment of medical conditions like severe anemia, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

By declaring your support for Hobby Lobby, you agree that it’s acceptable for business owners to penalize women workers. You imply that whatever rights these workers possess are secondary to the rights of their employers. And you allow one religious tradition to determine the equation for everyone else.

That equation has just one solution: Put the rights of employers and employees back on equal footing. If your economic philosophy has a libertarian bent, that might be difficult to accept.

But the reality is that fewer restrictions on the practices of business owners aren’t going to restore the religious freedom rights of Hobby Lobby employees. Legislative fixes like the “Not My Boss’ Business Act,” proposed by Sens. Patty Murray and Mark Udall (and promptly blocked by Senate Republicans), might. And that means putting a check on the power that business owners can currently wield over their employees.

Thanks to Hobby Lobby, libertarian secularists may now find themselves unable to reconcile their economic principles with their support for a religiously neutral government. Libertarianism hasn’t historically been incompatible with secularism, and it still might not be now—but anyone espousing both views has serious questions to answer.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones. Photo courtesy Jones.

Sarah Jones is the Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Prior to joining AU, she volunteered for Femin Ijtihad, where she researched Islamic law and women’s rights. She holds a Master of Arts in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy from Goldsmiths, University of London, and tweets at @onesarahjones.


  1. “What lies ahead” ??

    I often miss the mark on some of these, but I thought the rule is that the object being laid down by itself means “lie” and the object being laid down by someone else means “lay.”

    If that’s the case, the sentence should read: I’m troubled by what lay ahead.

  2. “Imposing their religious beliefs on everyone else”….see you have to keep saying it that specific way for your position to be valid. And everyone knows it. You have to keep droning this braindead chant to cement it in public opinion as “perspective” to keep a justifiable position alive. Its only justifiable if you are being offended, and thus the specific way you libs keep phrasing your claims.

    Reality: yes corps are modern day golems. Yes they are run and owned by people. Some religious. Some not. As long as they are it is possible for the employees (not looked on very highly as sad as it is) to make demands of their employer (the owner) that go against his religion. You are imposing on him. He owns the asset. You do not. Essentially you are the owned asset.

    Lets pretend this droning chant of “they are imposing religion on us” were valid. Assume then if the owner of the business employing me were secular, and I a christian employee, it is conceivable that they could impose secularism on me via company policy. Would you liberals accept my cries for help in that case? Is it truely a two way street scenario….have you even thought about that possability. ….or would your bias blind you?

    If we really want change, the concept of the business entity will have to change radically. A real argument will have to be made for who actually produces new wealth and thus is deserving to direct thr flow of wealth from the company.

    I you really want a business entity vs. Employee change, you guys are droning the wrong argument. Its bigger than that.

    • You do not understand the nature of incorporation. Virtually every supporter of the Hobby Lobby decision (sans SCOTUS) appears to be ignorant on the subject.

      A corporation is more than its owner’s personal property. It is an entity with an existence which is legally separate and apart from its owners. A corporate owner reaps the benefit of this separation in the form of limited or no personal liability for corporate activities. In return for this benefit they must treat the corporation as something not entirely at their whim. The “corporate veil”. A corporation only exists at the fiat of government.

      The co-minging of personal and corporate interests has been long considered cause for legally declaring a corporation’s existence null and void. Making demands on a corporation are not making demands on the personal life of its owner.

      The idea that a corporation has a religious belief is both ridiculous and very insultingly reductive to the entire notion of religious belief. Something so insignificant it can be assigned to a pile of government filings.

      Btw the only way to “impose secularism” is tell someone they are not allowed to act in a way which others may find offensive or obnoxious. You don’t seem to understand what secularism is either.

      • samuel Johnston

        I can only agree, and add that a “closely held” corporation seems to be a distinction without a difference. A partnership, perhaps, would be a different matter, and an alternative available to those for whom personal considerations are important, but I have no idea where this S.C. is headed with this hybrid person/corporation set of rulings (speech/money). I see nothing of legal/social merit in this line of cases, and expect that they will be overruled in an election cycle or two. BTWFWIW- How did we get so many Catholics on the Court?
        They do not reflect the composition of the population.

    • The Great God Pan

      “Assume then if the owner of the business employing me were secular, and I a christian employee, it is conceivable that they could impose secularism on me via company policy.”

      But this simply isn’t true. The courts have ruled again and again that employers must accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees. Christian employees must (if they want it) have Sundays off, even if that means another employee with more seniority will be forced to work them. Christian pharmacists must be free to refuse to dispense medication that they claim conflicts with their religious beliefs. Christian employees at medical facilities must be allowed to refuse to treat homosexual clients (see Bruff v. North Mississippi Health Services, Inc). And so on.

      In fact, a nurse-midwife named Sara Hellwege is currently making news by suing Tampa Family Health Centers because they didn’t hire for a job that she said she would refuse to perform because of her religious beliefs.

      • A little correction:

        Bruff v. North Mississippi Health Services, Inc ruled against the Christian employee at both trial and appellate court. Accommodation must be found between giving the customer the service requested and dealing with employee beliefs. When the two conflict, the employee must give way if there are no other reasonable alternatives to them performing the services.

        • The Great God Pan

          The trial court found in the employee’s favor and awarded her back pay and damages of over $300,000.

          Although this was later overturned on appeal, the company still had to spend time and money defending itself against a lawsuit that would have been thrown out were it not for laws that afford special rights to religious believers.

          • “Although this was later overturned on appeal, the company still had to spend time and money defending itself against a lawsuit that would have been thrown out were it not for laws that afford special rights to religious believers.”

            Fair enough. :)

    • Lies: Isn’t the essence of evangelism, especially the right-wing, evangelical churches that make up such a big part of the Southern Republican Party, what drives them? Isn’t it what urges them to try to convince others that they are right and the others are wrong?

  3. What passes for Libertarianism these days, the Ron Paul-esque hodgepodge of bigotry politics, religious fundamentalism, neo-confederatism, isolationism, Ayn Rand nonsense and corporatism is completely at odds for anything having to do with civil liberties of actual live human beings.

    These people put the rights of artificial constructs like corporations over individuals. For all of their whining about “statism” they fail to acknowledge how private actors attack the civil liberties of others.

    The Hobby Lobby ruling is probably the greatest victory the “libertarians” can expect. A perfect example of their stance. Nothing but lip service to personal liberties, anti-government, pro-corporate, and promoting to religious based obnoxious behavior.

    Secularism is the only effective way to protect religious freedom. Entanglement of the religious with the apparatus of government only causes sectarian discrimination. Secularism requires maintaining the wall of separation between church and state and protection of free exercise of religion.

    A strong central government is the only way to keep that going. Reverting to state or local power on such matters, as Libertarians always call for, invites undermining of civil liberties. It also attacks the 14th Amendment notion of equal protection under the law. The overwhelming majority of discriminatory laws are passed at state and local levels.

    The Hobby Lobby decision set a particularly boneheaded precedent for people who value religious freedoms (unlike its supporters). It gave SCOTUS the power to determine whether a person or entity has deeply held religious beliefs.

    The various ways the majority on the court tried to limit their own decision (only closely held corporations and only on the subject of birth control and only with regard to RFRA) shows that even they were uncomfortable with the expansion of power they created for themselves here.

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  5. Sarah looks about 15, and her arguments reach about that level of mental development. Healthcare is a benefit, not a right. Contraceptives have a legitimate use as a medical corrective or treatment, but their designed purpose as a prevention of pregnancy can only ambiguously be described as ‘health’ care. Contraceptives are relatively inexpensive and the costs should be born by the individual. At the same time, why is the onus on women to seek contraception? Men should take equal care, concern, and responsibility as it pertains to preventing pregnancy.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi Diogenes,
      “Contraceptives are relatively inexpensive and the costs should be born by the individual.”
      Sometimes purity of theory must give way to the public welfare. I agree in theory that citizens should act responsibly, but many do not. One can buy tons of contraceptives for the cost to society of rearing just one unwanted child. I worked in juvenile detention long enough to see the results of child abuse, and the destructive hostility of the child who knows he is not wanted. I also observed that despite all their heroic rhetoric, those opposed to contraception did essentially nothing for the kids that we saw come and go.

  6. Those who love money, love what the “filthy lucre” can buy, love the power their money gives them over the masses, even the money they hide in Swiss banks and the Cayman Island postal boxes, are as religious as anyone else. There are many gods. Theirs are just a somewhat different than some others. You can hold theirs in your hands. You can buy things with it–the medium of exchange. But it is still a “Golden Calf.”

    The Supreme Court of the United States, dominated by Catholics–that does not include Justice Sonia Sotomayor–all of whom were appointed by anti-democracy Republican presidents, Reagan and the two Bushes–has again used politics to promote the false god of finance and profit. That is the “Golden Calf” of power.

    Throughout history, religion and finance have been disguises for each other, promoting each other, using each other to deceive the masses of people from recognizing the true motives of the common selfish greed of religion and finance.

    The Green family, religious fundamentalist owners of Hobby Lobby, were only concerned about the bottom line of the family’s business by escaping any increased obligation to remunerate their employees fairly for their labor of making the Greens so wealthy. It’s the “Golden Calf” all over again. Their commandment? “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

    Any religious prattle that comes out of the mouths of libertarians is just that, prattle. It is the same as the lies of Rand Paul when he claims that he supports civil rights–except when those rights interfere with the robbing of the poor for the gain of the wealthy–and then he dares to deny he ever supported the right of wealthy business owners to wear the false face of profiteering by denying civil rights, equal rights for all. Only Rand Paul’s ambitions have changed.

    It is not at all strange that the various strains of so-called of libertarianism are bonded with religious extremists in the same right wing. Selfish greed is their creed. Their common god is wealth. And you cannot become wealthy without being selfish, greedy–and dishonest. Taking an unfair portion of the profit of business is selfish, it is greedy, and it is dishonest. Profit does not “trickle down.” Profit is earned with the sweat of labor every bit as much as by any other investment.

    All of history proves that selfish greed and the dishonesty of behavior to indulge that selfish greed must be controlled. That is precisely why we have rules in all groups. That is why we have laws in civil institutions. That is why we have constitutions for civil institutions. Regulations are the fine toothed comb with which we control the non-stop selfish greed of some people to exploit others for the glory of the god of their own distorted religion of material gain.

    Any secularists who are subdued or deluded by the creeds of libertarianism, like that of Ayn Rand and her disciples, Alan Greenspan, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, the Walton families, the Koch brothers, Ron and Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, even illiterate, but ambitious politicos like Rick Perry, and other pseudo-relgion peddlers like Rick Santorum–these are all big pretenders who fool pseudo-secularists into thinking that the pseudo-gods of rank materialism deserve to be worshipped over the People they should be serving.

    • Your arguments reflect your own ideological biases, are hardly objective, and do not constitute “proof.” Broad catagorizations (sic) without specific examples of evidence prove nothing and their reception by any audience is still apt to be colored by bias and preference. As a famous pundit once declared, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

  7. Curiously, Sarah Jones has also described HERSELF as being incompatible with secularism:

    “I’m not a secularist, as I’ve already said.”

    I remain curious as to how she defines secularism and what her actual stance on secularism is. Is she simply concern-trolling secularism with posts like this one?

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