FSU Professor Weighs in on Hobby Lobby Case at Philosophical Forum  

On Tuesday, Oct. 21, Frostburg State University Philosophy Professor Austin Dacey spoke on the Hobby Lobby case at a philosophical forum held by the FSU Department of Philosophy. The presentation was titled, “Beyond Religious Freedom: Conscience and the Law After Hobby Lobby.”

Based in Oklahoma City, Hobby Lobby is a family-owned arts and crafts store, and the owners abide by their Christian beliefs in their business practices.

Hobby Lobby founder David Green believed that it would be wrong for the company to provide certain contraceptives, which he considered abortion-causing drugs, because of his religious views.

A 5-4 all-male majority in the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. Not one of the three female justices voted in favor of Hobby Lobby.

The Supreme Court decided that requiring Hobby Lobby to provide the contraceptives violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was designed to prevent laws that obstructed one’s free exercise of religion.

What this means, according to Dacey, is that “As long as your beliefs are sincere, you will be granted an exemption under RFRA. As long as the law is not discriminatory and it is generally applicable, there will be no exemption.”

Dacey argued against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to protect  family-owned, for-profit corporations from providing contraception in employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act, because doing so would violate their religious freedom.

“What is it that we protect when we protect religious freedom?” asked Dacey. He later asked, “What sort of beliefs must be closely-held to have to be exempt under RFRA?” He compared the treatment of Christianity and Scientology, implying that Christian beliefs would be taken more seriously when involved in legal matters.

He stated, “We need to give up the idea, under the law, that religion is special.” He explained that religious beliefs should be equal in treatment to non-religious beliefs.

“A pluralistic society should not stand just for religious liberty but for individual liberty,” said Dacey.

Dacey also asked, “What’s the difference between offering religious freedom to non-profits but not for-profits?”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg answered that in her dissent, stating, “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations.”

After Dacey’s presentation, the audience and Dacey discussed the topic.

Noting that Hobby Lobby has invested in forms of contraception, Hailey McDonald, president of the students for women’s issues, said, “Apparently it’s not against their religious beliefs if they could make a profit off it.” Later, she specifically explained that they invested in emergency contraception, “which is exactly what they claim is against their religion.”

McDonald also stated, “I firmly believe that Hobby Lobby started this case over money, under the guise of religious freedom.

On Dacey’s presentation, she said, “I wished that Dr. Dacey had touched on discrimination against women at the forum rather than just discrimination against ‘minority religions.'”

History Professor and Honors Program Director Greg Wood said,”There is a long history of employers in capitalistic societies determining the social and political content of the workplace,” instead of the employee determining the content.

Justice Ginsberg echoed this concern in her dissent. She wrote, “In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious beliefs—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons these corporations employ.”

“Perhaps we’ll need to move away from religious freedom,” said Dacey, “and toward freedom for all.”


Featured image: Dr. Austin Dacey talks with students and others in the audience about the Hobby Lobby case. (TBL/Brad Kroner)

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