The legal and political world is awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case with bated breath. The court’s ruling will determine whether the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict religious freedom or the plaintiffs’ belief that faith may be practiced in the public square will prevail. The arguments over the merits of the case in which the government’s attempt to impose a contraception and abortion drug mandate on private businesses as well as religious institutions have been endlessly rehearsed as a sidebar to the general debate about ObamaCare. But, as I noted earlier this year, rather than confining the debate to the question of constitutional rights, critics of the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius have done their best to portray the business owners who seek to strike down the government mandate as not merely wrong but a threat to liberty.
In order to do this, the administration and its cheering section in the mainstream media have sought to transform the debate from one that centers on government using its power to force people of faith to choose between their religion and their business to the dubious notion that dissenters from the mandate wish to impose their beliefs on others. This is a false premise since even if the owners of Hobby Lobby win, its employees won’t be prevented from obtaining birth control or abortion-inducing drugs. The only thing that will change is whether their Christian employers will be forced to pay for them.
But efforts to demonize Hobby Lobby are not confined to these specious arguments. As today’s feature in Politico on the Green family shows, the goal of the liberal critics of Hobby Lobby isn’t so much to draw the line on religious freedom as it is to depict their foes as crazy religious extremists who want to transform America into a “Christian nation.” That this is an unfair distortion of their intent as well as the point of the court case goes without saying. But the fact that mainstream publications feel free to mock the Greens in this manner tells us exactly why the plaintiffs’ fears about restrictions on religious freedom may be justified.
In Politico’s telling, the Greens are religious fanatics who not only are willing to conduct their businesses along religious lines, including closing their chain of hobby stores on Sunday, but also want to promote their beliefs to others. The Greens may wind up investing hundreds of millions of their vast fortune to the building of a Bible museum in Washington D.C. The also want to promote Bible study and a funding a textbook and curriculum about religious studies they’d like to see be adopted by school systems. According to Politico, these efforts are stirring concern in the ranks of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and other liberal organs.
Were one of the Greens running for national political office, all this would, of course, be fair game. But it bears repeating that these people are private individuals who are merely using their personal resources to do exactly what the Founders sought to guarantee for all Americans: express their opinions and practice their faith without government interference.
As with their views about contraception or abortion, you don’t have to agree with the Greens to understand that they have every right to practice their faith and to promote their ideas. These are, as Politico admits, not your typical tycoons. They are more interested in faith than profit and are willing to stake their fortune on a fight to preserve their ability to conduct business without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. That may be alien to the mindset of many Americans in an era where much of our popular culture rests on the premise that we live in a world where there is no God and that those whose lives are built on faith are somewhat screwy. But the notion that such people, even very rich ones who build museums and promote Bible study, are a threat to non-believers is utterly fanciful.
Contrary to their government opponents in their lawsuit, the Hobby Lobby owners are not trying to force the actions of others to conform to their beliefs. What they want is to be left alone to practice their faith while also trying to persuade others to share it. Bible study may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the notion that it is a threat to democracy would have been hard to sell to this nation’s Founders. The attacks on the Greens illustrate the intolerance of openly expressed faith that is at the core of the mandate the administration is seeking to enforce. The Greens are no threat to the liberty of non-believers who need not visit their bible museum nor read the religious materials they publish. But a government, egged on by a liberal media establishment, that can’t tolerate Hobby Lobby’s practices is one that has little interest in defending anyone’s religious freedom. In such an atmosphere, it’s little wonder that Hobby Lobby’s advocates see the outcome of this case as a crucial moment in the fight to defend constitutional liberty.