Hobby Lobby, Contraception, the Supreme Court, and the Bible

As the New York Times’ Adam Liptak reports, the United States Supreme Court will decide tomorrow whether to hear appeals in the corporate challenges to the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act. 

The Court, University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock tells Liptak, will very likely take one of the cases, “and no one has any idea how it’s going to come out.”

At stake is not just whether corporations will gain the right to opt out of the contraception coverage requirement on religious grounds. The cases raise broader questions of whether a corporate entity is a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, with a religious conscience that can be “substantially burdened” by government action.

Liptak focuses on the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court could decide whether the 10th Circuit correctly ruled that the arts and crafts chain is exempt from the requirement. In July, I wrote for The American Prospect about Hobby Lobby and what constitutes this particular corporation’s “conscience.” 

Of the 38 corporate cases, the Hobby Lobby case has drawn the most attention from conservative activists, who see the evangelical-owned powerhouse as a potent symbol of their arguments that an overzealous government is infringing on the religious rights of pious, hardworking Americans. 

The Green family, the founders and owners of Hobby Lobby, say they owe their company’s success to their faithfulness in God. As Darren Grem, a historian at the University of Mississippi and author of the forthcoming book, Corporate Revivals: A Business History of Born-Again America, told me, a common narrative at the intersection of business and evangelicalism as that the state is the “enemy” of “godly forms of consumerism: the local business or large-scale ‘Christian’ corporation.”

The Greens, though, believe the Bible should influence more than just business:

Beyond their stores, and beyond the elder [David] Green’s unmatched generosity to evangelical causes, Steve Green, Hobby Lobby’s president, has launched an ambitious project to protect and preserve the Bible, biblical education, and what conservative evangelicals call a “Christian worldview.” In his 2011 book, Faith in America: The Powerful Impact of One Company Speaking Out Boldly, Green endorses the idea that there is “biblical truth” that conflicts with other ways of looking at the world. “[I]t isn’t really possible to just coexist and get along,” he writes. “Truth isn’t inclusive. It’s exclusive.”

In a speech earlier this year after receiving the National Bible Association’s John M. Templeton Biblical Values Award, Green discussed his plan to develop a public-school Bible curriculum. “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. … If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

Green has already embarked on this effort in his home state of Oklahoma (h/t @okiebliss on Twitter). Local television station KOCO reported last week that Mustang High School, in Mustang, Oklahoma, is considering an educational Bible curriculum developed by Green.

Of course there’s nothing wrong teaching about the Bible in public schools. But teaching a certain view of the Bible—for example that it is an “exclusive” “truth” not represented by other religions or non-belief—would be unconstitutional. As in an infringement on some students’ . . . religious freedom (not to mention a violation of the Establishment Clause).

It’s not clear from the KOCO report what exactly is involved with the Bible curriculum Green developed, and it might be within the bounds of the Constitution. But Green’s previous statements about his intentions should raise eyebrows.

Parents in Mustang appear to have different understandings of what would be acceptable. “If it gives students who want to learn about God the opportunity, sure, why not?” one unidentified parent told KOCO. Another parent, Shannon Dixon,  though, had a better idea: “I think that would be okay, if we wanted to inform the kids about other religious as well,” she said.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email