Every Easter and Fourth of July since 1997, Hobby Lobby, has taken out full-page ads in newspapers around the country; by their own numbers, 290 newspapers in 30 states in 2007. The Hobby Lobby name may be more familiar to people this Fourth of July than in the past, of course, due to the Supreme Court’s ruling this past week.
Friday’s newspaper message, like similar ones before it, lacks nuance: Emblazoned at the top is an American flag, the words, “In God We Trust” and the Bible verse, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” It features quotes of Founding Fathers, presidents, Congressional reports, and the 1636 Harvard “student guidelines,” all of which extoll the importance of a Christian God and religion in American governance and education, among other aspects of life. Most poignantly, the ad features quotes from Supreme Court Justices and Supreme Court decisions.
Many of the quotes are from the colonial era (yes, there was no United States of America when that 1636 class of Harvard students received their guidelines), or early American history, such as Patrick Henry’s “…give me liberty or give me death,” (a quote that begins with the necessity of an appeal to God). But there are also some quotes from the mid-19th century, highlighting – according to the ad – why the Supreme Court has okayed prayer in public schools, ignoring later Court decisions that disagree with that conclusion.
On any other Fourth of July, the quotes and the ad would merely represent a buffet-style political theory, mixed with theology, for American government, without discussion or debate. After all, it’s not hard to find Christian/religiously-based quotes justifying a myriad of unsavory beliefs from racism to denying women access to work and professions (from the Supreme Court, no less).
But the ad is more poignant this Fourth of July given the Supreme Court decision. Moreover, this sort of proselytizing is in keeping with the mission and goals of Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Greens. It’s only a little ironic that Americans, of all religious stripes and beliefs, opening their newspapers Friday morning to an onslaught of decontextualized quotes on Christianity and the history of the United States is, in a way, a remarkable testament to the freedom of religion that we celebrate on the Fourth of July: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”