Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Hobby Lobby’s Religion Lobby – [Appended]

About two weeks ago, Dan emailed me with a link to a New York Times article titled “A Flood of Suits Fights Coverage of Birth Control,” by Times reporter Ethan Bronner, published that day. The article began:

In a flood of lawsuits, Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Mennonites are challenging a provision in the new health care law that requires employers to cover birth control in employee health plans — a high-stakes clash between religious freedom and health care access that appears headed to the Supreme Court.
In recent months, federal courts have seen dozens of lawsuits brought not only by religious institutions like Catholic dioceses but also by private employers ranging from a pizza mogul to produce transporters who say the government is forcing them to violate core tenets of their faith. Some have been turned away by judges convinced that access to contraception is a vital health need and a compelling state interest. Others have been told that their beliefs appear to outweigh any state interest and that they may hold off complying with the law until their cases have been judged. New suits are filed nearly weekly.

Dan asked me if I could put the article’s contents into perspective.  I could, and I did.  I responded:

Yeah, this is part and parcel of the Liberty U.-type ACA litigation that we exchanged emails about back in late Nov.

The new NYT article discusses the Hobby Lobby case, which is different than the Liberty U. case in an important respect: Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporation, albeit a closely-held one.  

The bottom line is that I expect that for-profit corporations, even small, closely-held ones like Hobby Lobby, will not be allowed an exemption from compliance with parts of the ACA on religious grounds.  The purpose of for-profit corporations is, well, profit, not the advancement of a religious cause or the practice of religion.  And corporations are people only for monetary purposes–accepting money and spending money.  At least as of now.

The two stated grounds for the corporations-are-people-too-my-friend right to First Amendment free-speech rights in Citizens United were (1) that the members of a corporation or union are united by a common political, ideological or monetary goal that is central to the existence of the nonprofit or for-profit corporation or union, and which the money–er, speech–addresses; and (2) that the general public has an interest in hearing more political speech, not less.  (At least as long as the speech is what the CEO, if not necessarily a majority of the shareholders, wants to say, and the spending balance–corporate vs. union–favors the Republican Party.  

Unless Justice Kennedy & Co. think more religion on the part of for-profit corporations that sell housewares and crafts is in the public interest, because lamps, picture frames and art supplies are people too, my friend, and because more religion by lamps, picture frames and art supplies is in the public, then Hobby Lobby probably will end up having to comply with the parts of the ACA that violate the lamps’, picture frames’, and art supplies’ religious beliefs.  But, who knows?

I thought of that email exchange this morning after reading Bill Keller’s opinion piece about Hobby Lobby case in today’s NYT.  The title: The Conscience of a Corporation.

Kudos to the Times’ headline writer.

Hobby Lobby’s lobbyists, referenced in the title of this post, are, of course, the company’s lawyers.

UPDATE: Reader J.Goodwin wrote in the Comments thread:

Hobby Lobby is relatively well-known (at least in Oklahoma) for their religious persuasion. They are closed on religious holidays and Sundays, etc.

I don’t think that matters, but it’s not like this is a company that has never held itself off as having religious owners or religious anything.

It’s not a straight up cash grab, it’s at least based on a history of some sort of religious values.

Obama never should have offered any exemption on this stuff. It’s time for religions to be treated like the corporations they are.

I responded:

One of the articles I read about the lawsuit said that Hobby Lobby reportedly treats its employees well, paying the lowest-level ones twice the minimum wage.  I had never heard of Hobby Lobby until the fall of 2011, when I was shopping in a strip mall where one was located and decided to stop in.  I didn’t even know it was a chain until last month when I read about the lawsuit, and I knew nothing at all about its owners before that.  

But I do know now that it’s a closely-held corporation, the shareholders all members of one family, and that the family is genuinely religious and also apparently generous.  There’s really no question but that their position on the contraceptives insurance matter is entirely and genuinely based on their deep and longstanding religious beliefs; they are not using their beliefs as a pretext.

But running a business is not practicing religion. And the law at issue concerns running a business, not practicing religion.  

That said, I didn’t intend by the title of this post to be snide or nasty, but instead to make a point.

The Public Learns Disaster Relief Was Etched Out of the Sketch. Uh-Oh.

MITT ROMNEY: “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?”

DEBATE MODERATOR JOHN KING: Including disaster relief, though?”

ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.

Republican primary campaign debate last year

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias points to that today andcomments:

More prosaically, though the Romney campaign was understandably circumspect over the weekend about his spending plans the fact is that his overall budget requires sharp cuts in everything. The central issue is that Romney wants to cap government spending at 20 percent of GDP while boosting military spending to 4 percent of GDP and leaving Social Security harmless. That means a 34 percent across-the-board cut in other programs according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Unless, that is, Medicare is also exempted from the cuts in which case you’d need a 53 percent cut. …

If a storm damages basic physical infrastructure (power lines, bridges) and imperils human life it would be the height of penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking to suppose that the afflicted area should wait months or years to repair the damage. Ultimately, anyplace is going to go back to robust wealth creation faster if basic stuff gets fixed up faster. But that requires financing by an entity capable of rapidly financing expensive projects—i.e., the federal government. Left to its own devices a storm-ravaged Delaware or Louisiana is going to be squeezed between balanced budget rules and falling sales tax receipts and be forced into an increasing state of dilapidation.

How about a storm-ravaged Florida?  According to current polls, slightly more than half of Florida voters want their state to take over disaster relief, at least until arrangements can be made for the private sector to take it over.

And, about that question Romney asked: What should we KEEP?  Well, in addition to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and defense spending for private contractors, what DOES Romney think we should keep?

We cannot – we cannot afford to do things like disaster relief without jeopardizing the future of our kids.  We CAN, though, afford to give massive additional tax cuts to the wealthy, and huge additional contracts to Republican defense contractors, without jeopardizing the future of our kids.  Right?

What’s truly unconscionable is that it’s taking Hurricane Sandy to educate the public about the plans Romney and Ryan have stated so clearly.  I’ve been utterly unable to understand why the Obama campaign hasn’t been running video clips of Romney’s primary-campaign statements as the foundation of their ads.  I’ve thought all along that this is all Obama would need to do in order to win.  I think Sandy will prove me right.

And, here’s a shout-out to New York Time columnist Bill Keller for exposing for the absurd myth that it is the punditry’s “in” refrain that we don’t know what either of the two candidates would use the office to do in the next four years, because, well, neither has specified sufficiently.  As Keller says, actually both have specified sufficiently. 

And Romney’s already begun to reverse-sketch his etchings.  Suffice it to say that he’s not spent the last week promising “BIG CHANGE” because he plans to etch out of his sketch all those primary-campaign promises. 

Two Important Op-Ed Pieces Today

I want to draw AB readers’ attention to two of the most important op-ed pieces I’ve read in a while.  They address entirely different, but profoundly important, matters.

One is Elizabeth Warren’s piece today in Politico, called Stop riggingsystem against small business.

The other is Bill Keller’s column today in the New York Times, called The Leak Police.

These articles speak for themselves just fine.  No commentary on them is needed.