About Hobby Lobby: Who Gets Hurt by Religious Exemptions

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by Chance Hunter on September 16, 2012

So Hobby Lobby is suing the federal government, hoping for a religious exemption so that its health insurance plan isn’t required to cover “abortion causing drugs.” Apparently, now you only have to obey laws you completely agree with.

On the local news, they implied Hobby Lobby is claiming it’s a “faith based organization.” Right. One that isn’t open on Sundays.

We do give religious exemptions for other things. Ministers are allowed to opt out of Social Security, for example, though it’s foolish to do so. My father-in-law was never so glad to have kept his Social Security as when he had to leave the ministry following an accident that left him disabled.

It’s like the whole religious exemption thing is based on a Catholic priest model of ministry. The assumption is that ministers will be taken care of by church systems from ordination until death. Do most ministers even make it to retirement these days? I doubt it. Lifetime employment in a single industry belongs to a bygone era of America. Why would we expect ministry to be any different? Ministers who are promised a church-funded pension instead of a 401k-type plan that follows them when they leave the ministry are asking for it. If you’re not in the ministry anymore when you reach retirement, all those years in the ministry are lost when it comes to funding that retirement.

Lets be honest about who religious exemptions are really hurting. Most people who work for churches aren’t ministers. They’re choir directors, secretaries, youth directors, nursery workers. The vast majority of them will never be ordained, and so they haven’t made the commitment—and the sacrifices—that are understood to come with ordination.

I should know. When I was laid off by my church, I found out to my surprise that I wasn’t eligible for unemployment. I was told on two separate occasions by social services workers that since churches don’t pay into unemployment (at least in Georgia), church workers aren’t eligible for it. I could file a claim and wait for the investigation into why nothing had been paid on my behalf, but when they found out it was a church, the case would be dropped.

Maybe the solution here isn’t removing religious exemptions. Maybe what we need instead is informed consent. Require religious employers to get a signed waiver from all current and future employees, something that states that the religious employer could pay for unemployment insurance, emergency birth control, etc. but that it chooses not to. Then at least they could make an informed decision about whether or not they really want to work there.

Because you know that some poor teenager working for Hobby Lobby is going to find out the hard way that that nice boy from youth group wasn’t so nice after all, and she’s going to be surprised to find out that emergency birth control isn’t available to her. Which means that by denying people emergency birth control, Hobby Lobby will actually be pushing people toward choosing abortion.

(Photo by kenteegardin. Used under Creative Commons license.)

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