The lesson of today’s Hobby Lobby decision: A corporation’s right to religious freedom trumps your right to reproductive health care

“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote today in her vociferous dissent following the high court’s 5-4 decision to allow certain employers the right not to provide coverage for medical procedures and medications that run contrary to their stated religious beliefs. The case in question was brought before the Supreme Court by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, in the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) having been signed into law. The owners of both companies, who identify as evangelical Christians, took exception to the ACA mandate that they provide contraception coverage as a part of their employee health insurance plans, and refused to comply. And, with today’s ruling, it would appear that the law is on their side. Closely-held companies, in the opinion of the Supreme Court majority, should be afforded the same rights as individuals, who are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

hobbylobbyBader Ginsburg, to put it mildly, had significant problems with the majority decision. “Would the exemption… extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations?”, she asked. It’s a good question, and one which we will undoubtedly hear more about in the coming months, as more and more CEOs who consider themselves to be religious, begin challenging the mandates of Obamacare in court. As an estimated 90% of companies in America, as I understand it, would be considered “closely-held,” which is to say that they are privately held, there’s an enormous opportunity for people to jump into the fray now that the opportunity has presented itself. [note: “Closely-held does not necessarily mean small. Hobby Lobby has over 550 stores, and employs as many at 21,000.]

Noting the “startling breadth” of the decision, Bader Ginsburg suggested that it was just a matter of time before corporations begin opting out of laws they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” And the result, you can be sure, will be messy. Now that we’ve decided in favor of a Christian-owned firm, how can we decide against a Scientologogist-owned one, as doing so, in the opinion of Bader Ginsburg, would be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the (Constitution’s) Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

But, five men on the Supreme Court felt it necessary to intervene on behalf of David Green’s company (Hobby Lobby), and its right to operate according to “Biblical principles.” (Perhaps not so surprisingly, all of the women on the Supreme Court were on the other side of the argument.)

In addition to the blatant misogyny inherent in the ruling, I’m troubled by the fact that the whole argument is built on the notion of corporate personhood. Essentially these five justices, by ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, are saying that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was written to protect the religious freedoms of individuals, can be applied to corporations as well. They’re saying that corporations can have deeply held religious beliefs, and that those beliefs are protected under law. Instead of restricting the notion of corporate personhood, which has proven to be absolutely cancerous to American electoral politics, when-in corporate spending has been deemed equivalent to free speech, we’re actually pushing it even further with today’s decision. (The Department of Health and Human Services unsuccessfully argued that theses companies forfeited the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when they chose to incorporate.)

It’s worth noting that the plaintiffs in this case, as far as I can tell, are not completely against contraception. At least, historically, Hobby Lobby’s insurance covered some forms of contraception. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, though, objected to the fact that four of the twenty forms of contraception currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration “prevent an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.” And that’s where the battle lines were drawn.

hobbylobby2Before you begin feeling too much sympathy for these companies that were asked by our government to do something they didn’t feel God would approve of, though, you should know that they’e hypocritical at best when it comes to enforcing these “deeply held beliefs.” Not only does Hobby Lobby buy most of their goods from China, where abortion is essentially mandated by the state, but they apparently invest in the very corporations that manufacture the forms of contraception they claim to have ethical problems with. The following comes from a Mother Jones report on where Hobby Lobby invests their retirement funds.

…These companies (Hobby Lobby invests in) include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other stock holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell…

I know my optimism may be somewhat misplaced, but I can’t help but think that this most recent development, as terrible as it may be, could bring us closer to the goal of single-payer health care. The more that individual companies push back, and try to fight Obamacare, the more they make it clear to the thinking people of America that health care isn’t something that should be left to corporations. As has been mentioned by others today, if the federal government wanted to increase access to birth control… which was the objective motivating this requirement all along… “the Court thinks it could do it in ways that didn’t violate religious freedom, like taking on the task of distributing contraceptives itself.” Amen. Let’s remove the corporations from our private health care decisions altogether, and create a robust, fair and science-based health care system that serves all Americans, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a quote from infant-footed Ann Arbor businessman Al McWilliams… “I don’t understand,” says McWilliams, “most of what Hobby Lobby sells is effective contraception.” I have my doubts as to its authenticity, but McWilliams, shortly after making the previous comment, bolstered his argument by quoting Hobby Lobby CEO David Green. “In an effort to curb teenage pregnancy,” Green, according to McWilliams, said, “we’ve deployed extensive scrapbooking workshops throughout the Midwest.”

Oh, and for those of you who work at Hobby Lobby, here’s a link to a bunch of information on the effectiveness of pulling out… Best of luck… And God bless you.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Corporate Crime, Health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Is Star Trek good for girls?


At some point, about a year ago, Clementine and I got out of the habit of reading together every night. It might have had something to do with the fact that Arlo had come along, and was demanding more of my time, but I suspect she’d also gotten to an age where our interests were diverging, and she no longer wanted to drift off to sleep hearing me read from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Not yet ready to accept the fact that she was growing up and developing interests of her own, though, I began a desperate search for something that we could share together in the absence of books. And what I came up with was the original Star Trek, which I thought might help instill an appreciation, if not a love, for science. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like for her to go into the space program and get off this damn planet of ours.) So, for the past year or so, we’ve been slowly making our way though the three seasons of the series, watching about an episode a week.

250px-Nichelle_Nichols,_NASA_Recruiter_-_GPN-2004-00017I’d known, going into it, that it would be complicated. Any time you introduce a nearly 50 year old cultural artifact to a kid, there are going to be issues. But I found Start Trek to be especially difficult as the father of a young daughter. The blatant sexism of the series, which I was oblivious to as a kid, when I first watched the series, really came into sharp focus as I sat there with Clementine, trying, to the best of my ability, to provide context… trying to explain to her that, at the time, Start Trek was actually at the forefront of breaking down barriers, especially for women of color.

The show, we’re told, was one of Martin Luther King’s favorites. In fact, according to Nichelle Nichols, the African American actress who portrayed communications officer Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise, it was King who asked her not to leave the show after its first season. According to Nichols, he said that she “could not give up.” For the first time in American popular culture, young black children, especially girls, had someone to identify with that wasn’t a household servant, and that, in the eyes of King, was vitally important. “Once that door is opened by someone,” he apparently told her, “no one else can close it again.”

In spite of the way women are often portrayed on the show, I think that Star Trek has been good for us. It’s given us an opportunity to have conversations that we might not otherwise have been able to have concerning the ever-expanding role that women play in society, and how, thanks to the struggles of millions of women before her, she doesn’t have to be a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, or even a short skirt-wearing communications officer, if she doesn’t want to be. If she wants to work hard enough, I tell her, she can be anything that she wants to be, in spite of the competing cultural influences which might tell her that, despite everything else, women are still valued primarily for their attractiveness to men.

For us, I think that Star Trek was the right choice. We were able to navigate it in such a way, I think, that the good outweighed the bad. I’m curious, however, what others think… In the love of science and exploration that Star Trek might instill offset by the often offensive treatment of women? It the fact that it was progressive for the time matter at all, now that nearly 50 years have passed? Does the fact that there was a black, female officer on the bridge make up for the fact that Captain Kirk bedded scantily clad female lifeforms across the universe?


[note: I’ve just discovered that Nichols was involved in an extramarital affair with Start Trek producer Gene Roddenberry which began prior to the 1966 launch of the show. He was also, apparently, having an affair with Majel Barrett, who played Nurse Chapel on the show, at the same time. (He would go on to marry Barrett after leaving his wife.) So it apparently wasn’t just Kirk who was chasing women across the universe.]

Posted in History, Mark's Life, Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Meanwhile in Ypsilanti


I’m not sure why Chris Sandon brought this particular local job opportunity to my attention, as I’m notoriously rude and unprofessional during my coital piercing sessions, but I like that I’m the first person he thinks of when things like this cross his desk.

Posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Today on the Water Street Commons


[Photo by filmmaker Adam Wright, taken at Ypsilanti’s Water Street Commons sculpture park.]

Posted in Water Street Commons, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Pencil Paparazzi: Janice Dickinson… cutting in line, talking loudly and doing lunges at Starbucks

I’ve got another entry for our ever-growing Pencil Paparazzi file. This one comes from a woman by the name of Kelli Paige, who, a few years ago, apparently had a run-in with self-proclaimed “world’s first supermodel” Janice Dickinson in an Ann Arbor Starbucks.


The drawing was accompanied by the following note:

According to a review of my Facebook timeline, it was August 29, 2012, at the Starbucks on the corner of State and Liberty, that I came in contact with Janice Dickinson. She was dressed casually, but with sunglasses (inside), and, I think, a baseball cap, as if to try and conceal her identity. However, she was talking loudly on her cell phone and her voice was immediately recognizable. She was also stretching and taking up a lot of space. She was doing lunges and stand-up yoga poses while waiting for her drink. Her face was swollen, and she cut in front of a bunch of people in line. I remember that I couldn’t help but stare at her. Something about the spectacle made me think, “This is probably what it would be like to see Michael Jackson in person.”

Sadly, there was no mention of what Dickinson was talking loudly about on her cell phone while doing lunges… I’m imagining her screaming at one of her enablers in LA about how Tyra Banks is “soulless, heartless and cold”, but I suspect it wasn’t anywhere near that interesting. Given that, like Madonna, the former model has a daughter at the University of Michigan, it was likely just a conversation about whether to buy blue or maize “Michigan Parent” yoga pants at the M Den.

A NOTE TO OUR READERS: Remember, if you see someone famous, don’t approach them. Don’t try to attempt smalltalk. Don’t ask them about their various well-publicized affairs and addictions. And, for god’s sake, don’t take photos. If you do, you my might spook them. And it might be the last thing that you ever do. No, just set up your easel a respectful distance away, and commence drawing.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Pop Culture, Special Projects, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments


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