Have you shopped yet at Huntsville’s bright, new retailing establishment, located on Highway 30 West in the building last occupied by administrative offices of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and previously by an earlier Wal-Mart store?
Well, a word of caution about our new Hobby Lobby, which had its official store opening Oct. 21:
Don’t try to shop there on any Sunday or any evening after 8 p.m. You’ll find the store — like every other of the 578 Hobby Lobby locations — closed. If you ventured there Thanksgiving Day after your family feast, the place was dark and the doors were locked. You see, the company cares for its employees and their families, so much so that beginning full-time workers are paid a generous $14 an hour to work there. (Wal-mart staffers take note.)
Religious principles are vitally important to the Oklahoma City-based chain, founded in 1972 by David Green and members of his family. Still privately held, the company posted revenues of $2.38 billion in 2011, a figure believed to approximate $3 billion at present. The company’s mission statement, rather than pushing sales or profits, opens with this goal: “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”
These beliefs have caused the company to run afoul of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. At issue is this vexing question, translated from legalese: Can a company deliberately and consciously exclude required health insurance coverage for morning-after and date-rape pills for its employees in the name of freedom of religion, even though ACA says otherwise?
This past Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to consider next year the case of Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and the Green family, which owns the corporation. Yes, that’s the very same Kathleen Sibelius we saw on the evening news in late October, apologizing for and hopelessly trying to explain why the Obamacare website malfunctioned so badly beginning Oct. 1. Many wondered why Sibelius still retains her job in Obama’s Cabinet, but that’s another story.
Sometime around next June, our nation’s highest court will listen to government attorneys in what’s expected to be the first major legal test of ACA since the court’s 5-4 ruling in June 2012 that key elements of the law were in fact constitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts, a supposed conservative nominated for his post by President George W. Bush, tilted the scales of justice on that one with his befuddled ruling that Obamacare was in reality a tax and therefore legitimate.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who writes an op-ed piece on Fridays in the Washington Post and who appears regularly on Fox News panels, had this to say about ACA on Oct. 31:
“Obamacare is the largest transfer of wealth in American history.” Krauthammer also claimed that the “three pillars of Obamacare” are mendacity, paternalism and subterfuge. I don’t know much about large-scale wealth transfers but I’d like to side with Hobby Lobby as it does battle with Sibelius in coming months.
First, let’s consider that the Green family that founded and still owns and operates Hobby Lobby is paternalistic in taking care of its employees (8 p.m. closings, Sunday closings, Thanksgiving Day closing, $14 an hour, etc.). But it also is scrupulously religious in its adherence to biblical values. Because it’s a privately held corporation, it doesn’t have to answer to legions of shareholders and assumes that it should be allowed to operate lawfully within its own set of standards and beliefs.
Or can it? The Obama Administration doesn’t seem to think so, despite the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You remember that amendment, of course, drafted by future president James Madison and adopted in December 1791 as first (maybe foremost) among our Bill of Rights.
Here’s what the Amendment says in its entirety: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Did you catch that part about not “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” of religious freedom? So if David Green and his family oppose abortion and refuse to be forced to provide employees with potentially life-threatening drugs and devices (read date-rape and morning-after pills and certain IUDs) are they asserting their First Amendment right to religious freedom or are they violating the Affordable Care Act? The Obama Administration has authority under ACA to punish Hobby Lobby and its affiliates with onerous financial penalties to compel compliance with the law.
This past June, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, a 12-judge panel based in Denver and with responsibility for six Western states (but not Texas) ruled that Hobby Lobby’s religious freedoms were being jeopardized by the ACA’s mandate for the Department of Health and Human Services — headed by Kathleen Sibelius — requiring employers to provide potentially life-terminating drugs and devices as part of employee insurance plans.
Undaunted and undeterred, the Obama administration — with Sibelius on point and perhaps explaining why she wasn’t axed after the ACA website fiascos — appealed to the Supreme Court, which acted as expected this week to agree to hear the government’s nonconcurrence with the Court of Appeals. It’s a significant case, one which will once again test the limits of how far the Obama administration will go to jeopardize the civil liberties of decent, law-abiding American citizens and companies that drive our economy.
Meanwhile, Hobby Lobby has until Jan. 1, 2014 to comply with the provisions of ACA or else face a penalty of up to $1.3 million a day. The company will have to sell a whole lot of ribbons and plastic flowers in Huntsville and elsewhere if it’s going to survive. But the Green family is standing by its principles, which largely derive from a pair of stone tablets brought down from Mount Sinai and a sermon delivered on a hill overlooking the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Let’s hope that common sense prevails. But let’s not count on it. We’d better pray.
Bob Orkand, an Elkins Lake resident, taught English for five years at Huntsville High School. He is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel of infantry.