Commentary Religion

Hobby Lobby’s Real Agenda: Taking Your Religious Freedom

Amanda Marcotte

The Green family of Oklahoma, who own and operate Hobby Lobby, says they're suing the Department of Health and Human Services over the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act because of religious freedom. But their other political activities show that their real agenda is forcing their religious beliefs on you, any way they can.

Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

The Green family of Oklahoma, who own and operate the Hobby Lobby chain of craft supply stores, has been in the news in recent months because of their lawsuit, which has made it all the way to the Supreme Court, demanding the right to offer health insurance that doesn’t meet federal minimum standards but to get the tax benefits for doing so anyway. The Greens argue that because their personal religion forbids the use of certain forms of contraception, their employees should not be able to use their own health insurance plans to access that contraception.

While that case has gotten a lot of coverage, it’s hardly the only legally thorny issue the Greens have been involved in recently. Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, has also been in the news, albeit in a much less spectacular fashion, because of his meddling with local public school curriculum. Green has spearheaded an effort to get Bible study as an extracurricular class in Oklahoma public schools, and has found success in the Mustang School District, which covers a suburban area around Oklahoma City.

Green is well aware that the First Amendment strictly forbids this use of taxpayer resources in religious instruction, so he has claimed that the class is about the history of the Bible through an anthropological and literary lens. Readers will no doubt be unsurprised to learn that this claim has turned out to be untrue. As reported by the Associated Press, while the curriculum does cover some of the promised material, discussing the Bible as a historical and literary document, it also has some old-fashioned preaching in it.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation got its hands on the textbook for the class and is drawing attention to some of its more egregious proselytizing:

Perhaps the best example of the Christian bias of the book is the question it asks and answers: “What is God like?” It goes on to list only positive attributes (“Faithful and good,” “gracious and compassionate,” “orderly and disciplined,” “full of love”) or theologically Christian attributes (“always was, always will be,” “ever-present help in times of trouble,” “righteous judge”). God’s negative aspects go unmentioned. For instance, according to the same bible in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5), it says, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” Not only does God admit jealousy, he promises to punish innocent children for the crimes of their parents in the Ten Commandments. Any fair, balanced listing of God’s attributes must include those which he allegedly gives himself.

The book also treats the Bible like an accurate representation of history, which it of course is not.

The Green family says they’re suing the Department of Health and Human Services over the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act because they believe in “religious freedom,” but this Bible curriculum shows how farcical a claim that is. Far from wanting the state to leave people be on the subject of religion, they instead want to use the school system—and taxpayer money—to foist their own, very narrow view of Christianity on students. The fact that the class is an elective makes no difference. Students are told they’re getting a class in history and literature, and instead are subject to Sunday school teachings, and if they aren’t compliant with it, they risk hurting their GPA. The Affordable Care Act’s provision that employers provide their employees with insurance that covers a full range of preventive health services, including contraception, is a secular law that doesn’t meaningfully affect anyone’s practice of their religion—no one is forced to take birth control—but kids in the Oklahoma Bible study class are actually having their understanding of history, as well as potentially their personal religious beliefs, manipulated by a dishonest curriculum.

Taken together, it’s clear that the Green family is not interested in “religious freedom.” Instead, the Greens seem to have an agenda of finding as many ways as they can to force their religious beliefs on others, by trying to get people at work and at school to submit to their fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The contraception lawsuit is about trying to push their religious agenda on their employees by manipulating their benefits packages. And their Bible course is a clear-cut example of trying to inject religious teachings into public schools.

This is the religious right’s strategy: Chip away, little by little, at your religious freedom and make it so your choices, job, and education are all subject to complying with their religion. It’s exquisitely incremental—a Bible course here, a loss of benefits there. The idea is to chip away at our rights so slowly, and to make each victory so small, that the public doesn’t notice that our rights are slowly draining away.

The model for this strategy, of course, is the anti-choice movement, which has been using a similar strategy of passing one law after another, building each small strike against abortion access on top of another. Each strike, taken by itself, may not have seemed to amount to much. But after four decades of this, anti-choice advocates are now on the cusp of wiping out legal abortion access in most of Texas and all of Mississippi. The same strategy, as exemplified by the Greens, is now being used to chip away at your ability to live a life that isn’t constrained by the rules of a religion that you don’t follow (and which may in fact be contrary to everything you believe).

That’s something to keep in mind the next time someone suggests it’s not a big deal to let Hobby Lobby dodge federal law requiring that its benefits packages include contraception access for those who want it. If they win this round, many employees may be prevented from accessing contraception, and the Greens will continue to build on these victories. That’s the point: to chip and chip away, until your right to choose for yourself if you use contraception has disappeared, and you don’t even know how it went away.

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