Start the Presses: Crafted morality at Hobby Lobby

The old Orchard Supply Hardware in Burbank sits half a mile from my former home on Reese Place. Despite its convenient location, it never failed to have more than half of what I needed for any project, forcing me to trudge another couple miles to the Home Depot down the road.

And now with the opening of Hobby Lobby in that same space on — with high irony — July 4, the Media City trudges unwillingly into another highly charged case involving sex, gender and freedom.

The same U.S. Supreme Court that dismantled the hatemongering anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 — based on a suit brought, in part, by two Burbank residents — gave its blessing to a bizarre carve-out of an Obamacare requirement in the name of religious freedom.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that "closely held" — essentially meaning family-owned —– businesses can refuse to pay for contraceptives for employees on religious grounds. Now, despite a lot of the misinformation out there, Hobby Lobby pays for most contraceptives, including birth control pills. They objected to having to pay for items like the so-called "morning-after pill" and IUDs, which prevent fertilized eggs from developing.

The Green family, which owns the craft chain, said it felt such contraceptives are forms of abortion, and refused to cover it. (Scientifically, by the way, they're not.) The ruling gave them permission to continue doing so.

This is illogical, a grave injustice and perhaps most troubling, a mess.

Logically, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's dissent pointed out, there would be no reason that a closely held company run by Jehovah's Witnesses couldn't refuse to pay for blood transfusions — a practice they abhor — or Scientologists excise antidepressants or psychological services from its company's suite of medical services.

Where does it end?

Under the ruling, owners of such companies can impose their beliefs on others, effectively prohibiting legal treatments because they disagree with them on moral grounds. The Supreme Court's ruling looks from this perspective to be that famed perversion of the Golden Rule. That is: "They who have the gold make the rules."

Wait a minute, say proponents, the ruling doesn't prohibit female Hobby Lobby employees from getting IUDs, it just said the company didn't have to pay for them. Big difference.

Not really. Here's why: Hobby Lobby pays many of its staffers about $15 an hour. Full time that works out to about $30,000 a year, or (say) about $20,000 after taxes. On such wages, you tell me how that person pays for a $1,000 procedure out of pocket. Not pay the rent? Not buy food? The people impacted the most are the ones with the slimmest of safety nets, and may just need those devices to prevent a larger family and a full-bore descent into poverty.

Libertarians must love these guys, but that political philosophy leads to rampant injustice and unfairness for those who are not wealthy. That's what we're seeing here.

Pure morality is alleged to be the force behind the issue. But in April, Mother Jones produced a report noting Hobby Lobby has put millions in its employees' 401(k) retirement plans, investments that include the companies that make IUDs and produce the morning-after pills.

So it's OK to make money off IUDs? Are they hoping the stock prices of Teva Pharmaceutical will jump because more people may have to pay full price? Sorry to be so cynical, but that's what happens when faced with such blatant hypocrisy.

Apologists on the Supreme Court and on the right have pointed out that since Obamacare has made access to items like IUDs and the morning-after pill available by law to everyone, Hobby Lobby employees — or others impacted by this ruling — will face no out-of-pocket costs, and thus no real harm.

Let's set aside for now the fact there is currently no mechanism for providing women with this type of care outside of their insurance, and given our immensely divided and partisan Congress, unlikely to be one soon.

Instead let's look at what this means: A private, for-profit enterprise has foisted off its financial obligations to the government. That, ladies and gentlemen, means you're paying for Hobby Lobby's "morality."

Anyone remember the broadsides against Walmart, accused of paying its workers such low wages they had to turn to public assistance? That is, the taxpayer was indirectly funding Walmart's bottom line.

Looks kinda the same here, doesn't it? Who knew buying scrap-booking supplies could be so fraught?

DAN EVANS is the editor. He can be reached at (818) 637-3234 or 

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