Get Your Fake Conscience Objections Off My Lawn

NOTE: If you see the full text of this post on any site but this one, it has been reprinted without my permission.

Conscientious Objectors using hand tools to create a fire line.

Conscientious Objectors creating a fire line in 1942. Photo by the US Forest Service.

The Green Family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, has asked the US Supreme Court to grant them ‘conscience protection,’ exempting them from their obligations under the Affordable Care Act. They claim that their religious convictions don’t allow them to cover employees’ birth control.

As it happens, I know a little something about conscience protection. I’m a Quaker–one of the groups for whom the first conscience protection laws were created.

Back in 2011, I wrote:

As a Quaker, I believe in Conscience Protection. I believe people should have the right to refuse work that violates their principles. If a draft were called tomorrow, I would wholeheartedly support people’s right not to serve.

But if someone serving in the military came to me and said they wanted me to defend their right to refuse military service, but that they also wanted to keep their job and be paid as if they were actually serving in combat, I would laugh in their face.

A pharmacist demanding the right to keep their job even if they refuse to dispense legal medication is like a Marine demanding to keep their job even if they refuse to follow lawful orders. That’s not “conscience protection,” that’s a handout to someone who wants to be paid not to work.

I feel the same way about Hobby Lobby’s Affordable Care Act stunt.

I will refrain from asking where Hobby Lobby gets the nerve to claim ‘conscience’ when their shelves are full of products from countries with appalling labor laws. I won’t even ask which version of the bible they’re reading where Matthew 25.36 reads “I was sick and you sued not to cover my medical care.”

Instead, I want to know exactly where they’re getting the idea that conscience protections are a consequence-free exemption from legal obligations.

During World War II, men who refused conscription for reasons of conscience didn’t get to go back to their normal lives. They were conscripted instead for difficult, dangerous jobs. They served as forest fire fighters (including smoke jumpers), psych ward orderlies, and subjects in medical testing.

That program formed the basis of the Alternative Service Program used during the Korean and Vietnam wars. If a draft were called tomorrow, the Alternative Service Program would start right back up again.

And Alternative Service applies to work that people are required to actually carry out themselves, not to things they’re only required to pay for.

Every year, I pay taxes to the United States government. I tell myself that I’m paying for roads and schools; food for hungry families and head start programs.

I am, of course. But I’m also paying for Guantanamo Bay.

I’m paying for two wars, and for racist immigration laws.

I’m paying for drone strikes, including those that kill and maim children.

I’m paying for federal executions, and for lawyers to argue that the government is not obligated to provide comprehensive medical care to Chelsea Manning.

I’m paying for the prison industrial complex.

All of those things violate my religious beliefs.

And if I refused to pay my taxes because of that? I would go to jail.

There are Quakers whose consciences really won’t permit them to pay federal taxes. Many of them manage that by making sure they don’t make enough money to incur tax liability. They live on far less than they could earn if they were willing to pay taxes, but they’re willing to make that sacrifice, because their conscience demands it.

Now along comes Hobby Lobby, demanding a consequence-free exemption to paying for birth control on the grounds that it violates their conscience.

Back in 2011, I wrote:

If your conscience prohibits you from dispensing legal medication, then your conscience prevents you from being a pharmacist. Full stop.

If your conscience prohibits you from performing abortions, then your conscience forbids you from taking a position where abortions are part of the job. Full stop.

I know firsthand that it can be hard to pass up opportunities that violate your conscience. But that is the price you pay for conscientious objection.

If you’re not willing to pay that price, you’re not a Conscientious Objector. Full stop.

If the Green family’s conscience really forbids them from meeting their legal obligations under the Affordable Care Act, then they have the option to arrange their lives so as not to incur those obligations. They can choose not to run a two billion dollar corporation.

But if they’re not willing to make those sacrifices–if their ‘conscience’ only compels them so far as they can follow it for free–then they are not conscientious objectors.

And they and their fake conscience objection can get the hell off my lawn.

NOTE: If you see the full text of this post on any site but this one, it has been reprinted without my permission.


  1. YES OH YES thank you thank you thank you!!!

  2. Wonderful article. Mr. Green & Friends say they serve God, but in reality serve two masters. I am sincerely hoping SCOTUS rules that religious rights belong to PEOPLE, not corporations!!

  3. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and in all ways, yes.

  4. This is very well stated. People don’t get to pick and choose which laws/rules/professional ethics they follow. The reason laws/rules/professional ethics are in place is otherwise people do what’s convenient or easy, not what’s right. And that is exactly what the Green family is asking SCOTUS to let them do now.

  5. I could not agree more.

  6. Thank you for this! Definitely sharing. “There ain’t no free lunch” and Hobby Lobby and their ilk don’t get to play the conscience card without consequence.

  7. One of the main reasons people incorporate is to shield or seperate their personal holding from their business. Example: a driver for Pizza Corp goes off the road and into a crowded bus stop. The injured and families of the deceased go after the insurance and if the damages exceed the policy they go after the holdings of Pizza Corp. The CEO of Pizza Corp has his home-car-life savings in the clear as he incorporated. if he were a sole proprietor all could be at risk. It should be struck down that a corps CEO/board of directors can instill their PERSONAL objections while not being subject to PERSONAL liabilities

  8. Daniel Keating:

    For this post, I’m concerned specifically with the conscience question, and not with the many other legal, ethical, and logical arguments against granting Hobby Lobby an exemption.

    Personally, I think the world would be a better place if more business owners brought a strong sense of morals to their business dealings. But there’s a difference between running an ethical business and demanding an exemption to the laws that other people have to follow.

    If Hobby Lobby were asking for an accommodation that would allow them to, say, pay in at the same rate as other employers, but into a special fund that would cover other kinds of care while their employees’ right to birth control was being covered out of other monies that their special fund freed up, I’d be a lot more sympathetic to their position.

    But they’re not asking for an accommodation. They’re asking for an exemption. And, well. It’s amazing how many people will claim something violates their conscience when doing so will save them money.

  9. Very cogent observations. Were you a lawyer, I’d advise you to file an amicus brief presenting these arguments to SCOTUS, or forward your comments to the DOJ for case inclusion.

  10. Great observations, and may I also add that no business should have the right to require their employees to have the same beliefs and principles that the owners of the business have! The affordable care act is meant to provide medical coverage for all, despite belief systems or prejudice.

  11. Brilliantly written and I’ll now make reference back to these arguments the next time someone pulls the conscientious objector argument on me. Thank you!

  12. In “Citizens United” SCOTUS opened the floodgates to all sorts of corporate schemes designed to allow corporate entities to demand trumped-up personal exemptions and rights. The most right-wing, activist SCOTUS in the past century is equipping corporate America to trample voters’ rights, women’s rights, and the rights of other minorities. You have brilliantly presented the case for protecting the reproductive rights of women. I have yet to hear of any pharmacists refusing to write Viagra prescriptions for men lacking self esteem over ED.

  13. This is just brilliant. Thank you so much for putting it into words. Passing on to, oh *everybody*.:)

  14. Hobby Lobby does in fact have the right to not directly pay for such healthcare for their employees. They can choose not to provide adequate coverage, and pay the associated penalties, just like any other company that chooses to do so. The fines may cost more than the cost to cover their employees, but that is still a choice – they are not being forced to pay for birth control for their employees.

  15. Thankyouthankyouthankyou — a thousand times thank you! If SCOTUS rules for Hobby Lobby, it will simply open the door to all kinds of legal idiocies. Please, do as John Schneider suggests and send this essay to the Department of Justice. The right to practice one’s religion does NOT include the right to force others to practice it, too.

  16. PS anafterthought 30 November, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Thank you!

  17. Although well written, annalee’s comment makes what to me is a key mistake. Covering birth control is not a net cost: it actually saves money in the long run. On this topic, both sides get this point wrong, which is particularly ironic given that it actually strengthens both sides’ central arguments.

  18. […] Get Your Fake Conscience Objections Off My Lawn | Lee’s Bookshelf The Green Family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, has asked the US Supreme Court to grant them ‘conscience protection,’ exempting them from their obligations under the Affordable Care Act. They claim that their religious convictions don’t allow them to cover employees’ birth … […]

  19. “They can choose not to run a two billion dollar corporation.”

    Yes, exactly.

  20. There is a difference between people who work for the government (or for other people) whose beliefs may conflict with their employers who designed the job, and people who work for themselves. The owners of the Hobby Lobby work for themselves. A woman who owns her own pharmacy works for themselves. If they do not want to dispense drugs which cause abortions it is their conscience not to. The idea that they should give up their business if their conscience conflicts with a sudden social policy is quite totalitarian on your part. Obey or shut down.

  21. Great article!! Love every word of it!!!

  22. Quakers are indeed a religious group I can get behind. This atheist agrees 100% with you explanation of conscientious objection. Hobby Lobby cannot claim conscience and get a free pass. Pharmacists cannot refuse to fill a legal scrip. Having a conscience is not and should not be cost free.

  23. Oh my, YES! So very well said. Thank you for this. Sharing it.

  24. I know of no law requiring the owner of a pharmacy to fill a scrip, but several states have passed laws forbidding pharmacies from firing employees who refuse to fill scrips. This means the owner has to either pay to have another pharmacist on shift with them, or live with the loss of service/custom from not being able to fill the scrips. Owners are, essentially, forced to keep people on staff who are not willing to perform a necessary function of their jobs.

    There are many laws that business owners have to obey to stay in business. The Affordable Care Act is one of them. If they were asking the government to work with them to find a mutually agreeable solution that met the public interest without violating their conscience, I would support them. Instead, they’re asking for a free ride. And that’s not how conscientious objection works.

  25. bravo and thank you!

  26. The owners of a chartered entity are attempting to use their corporation as a mechanism for forcing their employees to abide by the owners’ religious beliefs, thereby denying the employees’ freedom of religion.

    The chartered entity that is not the Green family arranges for employees to be able to get a group rate on insurance. The employees pay for that insurance with their own incomes. The insurer happens to offer certain benefits, whose cost is not billed to the Green family, or to the chartered entity. The Green family is not only not asking for an accommodation, they are asking to be able to use the separate chartered entity as a lever to force a different corporation not to sell a service to individuals who (a) may not share the Green’s religious beliefs, and (b) may need the service for a medical reason (for example, severe, uncontrolled endometriosis) that is none of the Green family’s business.

  27. Thankyou!!! This is so well said and written!

  28. A great article ! What gives ANY boss the right to tell an employee they can’t use birth control ?? Talk about an invasion of privacy !!!

  29. David,

    It is well established that the government can regulate conditions under which one does business in the public square. Your argument is the same one used by innkeepers against public accommodations laws—it’s our business, and we can exclude blacks if we want to. Well, no you can’t. You can discriminate in your private dealings, but if you offer your services to the general public, you have to play by the public’s rules.

  30. “The idea that they should give up their business if their conscience conflicts with a sudden social policy is quite totalitarian on your part. Obey or shut down.”

    Not totalitarian but practical, if some ‘ethical’ principle prevents you from doing your job than you have no business in that profession.

    I don’t see Amish getting jobs as truck drives only to claim their religious beliefs prevent them from operating machinery. If you’re opposed to alcohol don’t become a bartender – if you’re opposed to science don’t a pharmacist.

    One of the Buddhism’s eight fold paths is right livelihood, in other-words work a profession that is consistent with your beliefs. That dose not mean refuse to do your job for ‘ethical’ reasons thereby forcing your views on others.

  31. Hm. Well, I’m not so sure.

    Like you, I am a Quaker. Like you, I have serious qualms with some of the ways my government spends the money I send them; like you, I would be unable to comply with a draft which required me to serve in the military.

    However, I am also a school teacher. Not only am I a good school teacher, I feel that at least for now, I’m led to teach–that Spirit requires me to offer my gifts in this way. Furthermore, I feel that teaching in a public school, which must teach all comers regardless of poverty, disability, or the political or religious beliefs of the families and students I serve, is part of my leading.

    There are states and districts that currently require a loyalty oath of public school teachers. As a Quaker, I have a strong religious objection to taking a loyalty oath.

    I don’t think it’s right to simply say that I have taken a job and I’m refusing to do the work because of my religious objection, however. I think that I should be granted an exemption from taking oaths, and that firing me for refusing to do so is unreasonable.

    The court–I believe it was in California, though I might be wrong–that ruled on that question a few years ago does not agree with me on this. Perhaps you don’t either… but from where I stand, this matter is a little more complex than either you or that court have acknowledged.

    I don’t think Hobby Lobby is entitled to this exemption; I don’t think this is a matter of conscience for them. But I do think it may not be quite as easy to judge as all that, in spite of my own feelings in the case.

  32. Very well said. It parallels a concern I’ve had over civil disobedience. Americans have forgottten that both conscientious objection and civil disobedience have a cost. They’re not just refusal; they’re refusal AND acceptance. I refuse to do A and will do B (e.g. work elsewhere; sit in jail) as an expected cost. Today you’d think our Constitution was written by Aleister Crowley. “Do what thou wilt.”

  33. THANK YOU….a truly great piece. Your points are well-made and very hard to argue against. The SCOTUS should have an opportunity to review this post.

  34. David’s argument employers working for themselves can do anything they want is a bit specious. Also, birth control can be an emotional issue for some religious people and it sometimes clouds the issue. Let’s try taking the emotion out of it. For example: blood transfusions, hardly a controversial topic amongst most people. If a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion that doesn’t allow blood transfusions, owns/runs a business and asks for an exemption from the ACA because policies covering blood transfusions for him or his employees would violate his conscience, most people would say that’s ridiculous. There is no law that says you have to have a blood transfusion if you don’t want it; that is between you and your physician. You as an employee, under the ACA, have the right to blood transfusions if you need and want them, regardless of your employer’s opinions or beliefs.

  35. Solarzar Dellaporta 1 December, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Powerful and cogent argument. I hope the Solicitor General has as powerful a position for the argument before the Supreme Court.

  36. Cat C-B:

    The difference I see there is, the loyalty oath is not a core duty of your job. The example with pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control is more akin to a biology teacher refusing to teach evolution, thus forcing the school system to hire a second teacher to cover that unit. The school in that case would have every right to say that it’s unreasonable to expect them to take on that extra expense–teaching the curriculum is a core responsibility of being a biology teacher.

    I also had a job that required a loyalty oath, which I refused to take. But I was able to come up with an accommodation that satisfied the government’s interest without violating the single standard of truth. If Hobby Lobby were asking for an accommodation that allowed their employees to get comprehensive coverage without violating the Green family’s beliefs, I would support them in that. But they’re asking to just be excused, and shift the burden onto their employees and the general public.

  37. David: the people who run Hobby Lobby do not “work for themselves”. They are a chartered corporation, responsible to the public at large under that charter, subject to the law of the land. Even if they were a sole proprietorship or a partnership, they would still have to obey the law. The ACA is the law of the land.

  38. Cynthia Caillagh Midwife 1 December, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    What a beautifully written statement. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  39. AnnaLee, I agree completely with John Schneider. I beg you to contact a lawyer so that you can draft an amicus brief for the Supreme Court. What your post highlights, more than anything else, is that this is a naked ploy by a Pentecostal corporation to say, “We don’t like this particular law, so we’re not going to obey it.” I find it ironic that so-called “business ethics” are a form of moral naturalism, a la Machiavelli or Hume, on the view that a business’s sole purpose for meaning is to maximize shareholder value without any constraints, including moral or environmental objections. So I don’t have sympathy for businesses who say that their Christian consciences are hurt by some particular policy, when their workaday lives set out to screw the average consumer out of as much money as they possibly can. If anything, the Supreme Court will not read this blog post, because they live in a very insular world of people who they like and only them. So an essay by you addressed specifically to the Court would remind them that if they are serious about enforcing Christian conscience protections, Hobby Lobby is found wanting.

  40. Thank you for writing this! I am so tired of Hobby Lobby and its high and mighty stance on everything they do. I particularly hate their “we’re not open on Sunday so we can worship” line, when I have seen — on several occasions — Hobby Lobby semis out on the road on Sundays.

  41. I’m with ya on this, Annalee, most definitely.”Hobby Lobby” can’t pick and choose, and I’m looking forward to the Supreme Court saying so.

    I wonder tho, did you mean to use the word ‘conscientious’ instead of ‘conscience’, as in a person whose refusal to serve in the armed forces is based on religious, etc grounds?

  42. KWebers

    I’m using conscience and conscientious interchangeably here, because conscience is shorter and easier to spell. But you’re correct, the proper term is “Conscientious Objection,” not “Conscience Objection.”

  43. David’s comment sounds all the more ridiculous when he refers to “a woman” as “themselves” when she’s obviously feminine and singular. Herself, sheesh!

    But as for the subject at hand, unless it’s a little mom and pop outfit with plenty of competition in the neighborhood, the opinions of the proprietors have no relevance. A publicly traded corporation belongs not to one family but to shareholders, including people who have mutual funds and no day-to-day knowledge of where their money is invested. I wouldn’t want any company in which I inadvertently own stock to discriminate or deny its workers health care to which I believe they should be entitled.

    As for “sudden social policies” that conflict with one’s conscience, the idea of universal health coverage has been around for well over a century. Every other country in the industrialized world has provided publicly funded health care to its citizens for generations. U.S. presidents have been trying since Teddy Roosevelt to get it here, too. David’s case against the government making these “sudden” changes holds no more merit than a slavery supporter refusing to comply with the 13th Amendment because it’s a “totalitarian” idea.

  44. In addition I think that many people are not educated on alternative medical uses of birth control. I have a common disease, endomitriosis. Its genetically passed. The first step to treatment to slow down the progress of this disease is common birth control pills, a hormone. Without this simple inexpensive medicine I would only be able to work 10 days out of the month. I have dealt with this disease since I was 16 years old and I’m now almost 40. It can lead to cervic, ovarian, or vaginal cancer. In the meantime as the endometriosis wrecks havoc on my body the symptoms can be debilitating. I’m thankful for “the pill”. I was married at 18 years old and had three children by the age of 20. After that I had my tubes tied because pregnancy and child birth was very hard on my body with this disease. My husband and I are about to celebrate 21 years of marriage this month and have raised amazing kids. I’m alive to do so because of birth control. Most women are not seeking free birth control so they can just sleep around.

  45. Thank you so much for writing this. It is very well thought and from the correct perspective. Again, thank you.

  46. Susan Ellman: The singular ‘they’ has been in use in English since sometime in the 14th century. So while his construction here was a little idiosyncratic, it was not incorrect. But even if his usage had been incorrect, his comment is still perfectly intelligible. Calling people out for grammatical mistakes tends to become a distraction from the actual topic.

    As to your actual point, though: yes. Laws change. That’s the point of having a legislature. Keeping up with those changes is one of the costs of doing business. But David’s point about the pharmacist was specious anyway, because the laws I was referring to in the quoted sections of the post had to do with preventing a pharmacy owner from firing an employee who refused to fill scrips for birth control. Those laws do not apply to pharmacists who own their own pharmacies and work for themselves.

    Melodie: Congratulations on your anniversary.

  47. Annalee : I totally see what you’re saying. Hobby Lobby couldlive by their conscious and still respect employee diversity. I recall the days of my youth in southern california–there was a chain of grocery stores that were Momon owned (Alpha Beta markets). The grocery section had no tea, coffee, sodas or alcohol. However, in the same store off to the side was a seperate entity called Raisins Liquor that stocked coffee, tea, sodas & alcohol. The mormons rented space to a non-mormon and this was a way for them to be true to themselves while making it easy for their customers that consume those items and not to want to do ALL their shopping elsewhere.

    Hobby Lobby could just as easily defer flexible medical spending accounts or some other “vehicle” which lets them off the hook for their beliefs while respecting what the needs of their employees might be

  48. I would also point out that this “religious exemption” business is merely the most convenient hobby horse for the religious right since the Affordable Care Act went through Congress. The democratic Congress passed the bill (with almost complete Republican refusals to participate), then conservative state attorneys-general lobbied several objections to it, for which the Supreme Court eventually intervened. When they found that the law was constitutional in June 2012, that ticked off the religious right so much that their last leg to stand on is the religion exemption, since for whatever reason, the law is the biggest crime against God since Satan convinced the Romans to crucify Christ. And since we live in a society where religious ideas, especially religious ideas we like, get a free pass, it does not matter that Republicans have lodged objections at every stop on the bill’s history into being turned into law. If the law is constitutional, Republicans will continue to use any and all means to stop its deployment, so the new argument MUST be the religious exemption.

  49. Nathan Roser: All snark aside, I’m willing to take the Green family at their word that they really, truly have a religious conviction.

    But, as you say, religious convictions that are popular get a lot more leeway than religious convictions that are not. Being fair and equal here is giving the Green family the same level of accommodation that other kinds of Conscientious Objectors have gotten. I believe the government should work with the Green family to come up with a reasonable accommodation–but a free pass isn’t reasonable.

  50. Robert E Miller II 1 December, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    As Vietnam vet I always had more respect for those who gave up their citizenship and went to Canada because they didn’t believe in the war than those like the Young Repubicans who supported the war but used college deferments and parents connections to stay out of it.

  51. Thanks for writing this. Two of my friends shared it on Facebook today, and I’m glad I clicked over to read it. Refusing to provide health insurance to employees is what is unconscionable. What hypocrisy.

  52. Not to hijack your thread, [Annalee], but my worry with your comment is that all religious ideas are equal, but some ideas are more equal than others, to borrow from George Orwell. If something of a case for a position can be made from the Bible, then that idea, even if it deconstructs the surface text of the Bible, is the LAW. This is one reason why you see the “Before you were in the womb, I knew you” quote from Jeremiah cited as one reason why “the Bible is against abortion”–even though it deconstructs the Bible to say that this is the meaning of the verse in its context; even though the one verse in the entire Bible that addresses the question of abortion is that, if a man shall cause a woman to have a miscarriage, the Levitican code requires the man to pay a fine. Whereas, if you’re a goshdurned furriner believing in Allah or Buddha or some other “non-natchural” religion, your religious beliefs are not only a violation of John 14:6 (“I am the way, the truth and the life, and nobody comes to the Father except through me”) but a violation of the Constitution (even though the Constitution was written largely by agnostics who lived in fear of a state church). I would genuinely like to believe that the Green family is honest about their beliefs but I think their family believes that Obama is a Muslim socialist antichrist who stands in the way of them doing whatever the hell they want. I’m not trying to be snarky but the Pentecostal church, of which the Green family are members, has been en masse against anything the President has said, not only because the President is black, but because they are morally offended by liberalism. Therefore their arguments against the ACA are not only nonfalsifiable, but the religious exemption is the most convenient argument of choice until one cedes this position to them. I believe in the principle of charity as a man trained as a graduate student in philosophy but I see nothing even close to a charitable response coming from Mr. Green. Hence my skepticism about the religious exemption. Nevertheless, I am in love with your argument and wish I could say something to make it even stronger.

    [This post was edited to correct the spelling of my name. -Annalee]

  53. […] Look for us upstairs by the street side, per usual. For the discussion this week, please read Annalee Flower Horne’s recent blog post and a quick definition of Quakers as a refresher, if needed. Questions to get the conversation […]

  54. andtheseashalltell 1 December, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Very well put. Thank you.

    Point in fact, even if they DO have a genuine religious objection, I’m still not sure that it applies. After all, if Hobby Lobby is able to decline coverage for abortions, shouldn’t Jehovah’s Witnesses be allowed to decline coverage for blood transfusions? Or Christian Scientists be able to decline coverage for, well…everything?

    What medical care should and should not qualify for coverage should be up to the experts, ie the doctors and the insurance companies, not individuals. I don’t say that as a point of politics or moral bias, but of logic; otherwise, there’s simply no common baseline on which to base everyone’s standard of care.

  55. janice halligan 1 December, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you for these very cogent and clearly expressed observations and arguments. This article of yours is worthy of being mandatory reading for corporate executives everywhere. And if that’s too much to (realistically) expect then at the least this issue, the specious arguments of Hobby Lobby and your wonderful rebuttal should be made into a case history as part of the curriculum for executives-in-training at MBA programs everywhere.

  56. Thank you. And I absolutely agree.

  57. Nathan Roser: I have not done much research on the Green family’s personal opinions about the President or liberals. As a member of a faith community about which a lot of people make assumptions, I am reluctant to take it as read that they think that President Obama is a Muslim socialist antichrist just because other members of their faith community believe that. If they do believe those things, well, they’re remarkably gullible for people who run such a successful business. But even if they do, this post isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that conscientious objection is not a free pass.

    I support giving them some accommodation that would allow them to meet their obligations without violating their conscience, but what they’re asking for instead is a handout that shifts the burden of those obligations onto their employees and the public. When other conscientious objectors have had to satisfy the government’s interest (sometimes at great personal cost), I have no sympathy for the argument that the law just shouldn’t apply to them because they don’t like it.

  58. Thanks for this.

  59. Gotaa tell ya.. I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but when someone comes along and makes sense… regardless of belief.. if they are consistent, and real, I have no problem whatsoever… I applaud the author and support their right to think and believe what they wish. The author comes from a place of personal authenticity.. a thing that is so lacking in western society. Bravo! May your cup be full and your wisdom heard.

  60. My father was a CO during WWII. He was not a Quaker, but his religious beliefs were accepted as legitimate (which they were) and he was assigned to CSP (Civilian Public Service) forestry camp on the Oregon Coast. That crew in the picture could well have been his.

    They worked hard, endured the rigours of camp life, and…oddly enough…even confronted the only bombing attack on the US mainland. They were called to deal with a fire caused by one of the balloon bombs that Japan sent across the Pacific. It is true that they did not face “combat” but they certainly did forego any “life of luxury” and they DID contribute to the welfare of the country. They were not considered veterans, and that was fine with them. For the most part they were happy to serve in the way they did, and although they endured a certain amount of abuse from some of the locals, on more than one occasion they were openly thanked for helping when Mother Nature delivered some minor flooding or a big fire in town sapped the strength of the local volunteer fire department.

    I too disagree with the Hobby Lobby stance. They may hold whatever beliefs they wish, and I’m fine with that. They may even publicly “preach” those beliefs and seek converts. I’m okay with that too. However, to mandate that their employees follow them crosses the line, and they have no right to force their views upon others under threat of termination.

    The scope of health care should be established by the medical profession, and we often hear of new procedures that become “accepted.” Not so long ago the idea of organ transplant was impossible. Now it’s routine. The same is true of birth control…which is often prescribed of other than “birth control” reasons. It’s none of their business what goes on in the doctor’s office, and since the prescriptions and processes are accepted medical practice, they should cover them. If they don’t like it…TOUGH!

  61. Very well thought out and written!

  62. Religious freedom? How about this gem from The Guardian:

    “Hobby Lobby used to have an employee insurance plan that covered the very same birth control methods it now claims violate its religious freedom. It wasn’t until the GOP raised a stink about the contraception rules in Obama’s healthcare legislation that the Hobby Lobby “re-examined” its insurance policies.”

  63. Oh.. and the last time I checked… no corporation can claim religious exemption unless they are a NPO.. Kudos to the previous poster.. Good info from the Guardian..

  64. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that if for-profits were banned from religious exemptions, the Supreme Court wouldn’t have agreed to hear the case.

    Rick‘s link to the guardian is pretty interesting–and rather suggests that Nathan Roser‘s right about the Green family’s motives. I felt a little bad about my initial snark, but if they covered the birth control without complaint until it became a political issue–yeah. That’s not how conscientious objection works either.

  65. Most excellent piece! Thank you.

  66. I am a lawyer and I practice in the Federal District and Appellate Courts as well as the Illinois State Courts. I am a member of the SCOTUS Bar, although like the VAST majority of its members, I have never had occasion to file any papers with the Court. I also happen to be a Christian. This is a well-reasoned piece and I believe that the issues raised will be at the heart of the argument before the Court, which I predict will likely win the day (i.e. Hobby Lobby will not prevail.) That being said, this case is an example of how far off the rails we have gotten from the fundamental right to freedom of religion, if it were ever really a fundamental right. There truly is no longer a protection that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As noted in the article and comments, Quakers, Christian Scientists, Jehovah Witnesses and so many others clearly have to put their religious beliefs on the back burner time and time again to participate in this society, as there are many laws that indeed prohibit the FREE exercise thereof. I doubt the Court will pull back now from a long line of cases that have made that clear. As a lawyer, there are many laws that disagree with. And if efforts are made, but fail to change these laws, they are what they are – the law of the land. We “give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s” and we are guided by our morals and values to continue to fight the fight within the confines of the law to achieve change. That process took hundreds of years to effect civil rights, and if those who wanted those changes did not continue to challenge the law, who knows where we would be in that arena?

    I think the ACA is a terrible law, not because it attempts to provide affordable health care to all (a good and just goal), but because it fails in achieving its intended goals and may indeed cause decades of harm in the way it is structured and implemented. Cynically, the goal may be to screw it up so badly that we have no choice but to end up on single payer, which is what some want anyway. Reconciling the ACA with Citizens United and other laws and policies that seem to be in conflict with each other is going to create a further erosion of the basic rights that we were supposedly afforded under the 10 seemingly simple Bill of Rights. But this reconciliation is necessary in an effort to make the ACA work, at further expense to basic freedoms.

  67. Annalee, I will say one more thing and then I will fall silent, because I fear I will have talked too much on this thread already. I genuinely hope I am wrong about the Green family’s motives in filing this suit. But if my depiction of their views is anywhere close to accurate, I believe it makes the need for your witness all that much stronger. I think it is close to a moral imperative that the Supreme Court hear you and what you have to say. The more I think about your view, the more impressed I become, and while I believe the frame you speak from is more limited than others who know the history of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, your view is absolutely necessary because the justices of the court need a frame on what the consequences of conscientious objection actually mean for a moral life. Therefore, if I haven’t before, and if my comments on your thread have any cogency, I urge you to draft an amicus brief. Thank you for listening–I think you are absolutely amazing.

  68. During the Vietnam War, I served with a soldier who did not know that he was a conscientious objector until they started using man-shaped targets on the range. He froze, shook like a leaf and was obviously nauseous. He was the real deal and was eventually, after carrying the radio for a time, sent on his way with the best wishes of everyone concerned.

    That is not why I decided to put in my two cents worth though. Not being American this topic does not effect me at all, but it was a great read … beautifully put and for the most part, beautifully argued. Something that doesn’t happen a lot on the internet.

    Good grammar/spelling and clear arguments (special mention: annalee). Most notable though, was the lack of abbreviations: not a “ur” in sight. Well done people!

  69. […] annalee on conscientious objection. […]

  70. Annalee-

    “I believe the government should work with the Green family to come up with a reasonable accommodation–but a free pass isn’t reasonable.”

    It’s not the government’s job to come up with a reasonable accommodation. If the Green family wants to propose one, the government could consider it, but is under no obligation to agree to it.

  71. Forget the Jehovah’s Witness corporation not covering blood transfusions, or the Christian Science corporation not covering anything medical.

    If the Supreme Court rules that corporations themselves (not their CEOs, Chairmen, founders, Boards of Directors, etc.) have Freedom of Religion, then what’s to stop the boards of corporations from declaring that their corporation has a sincere and deeply held belief in the Church of the Sacred Book of Ayn Rand (inspired by the Holy Galt), and thus is exempt from all laws and regulations?

  72. Beautifully written, thank you. I’ll be sharing this post via my own blog later today because it needs to be repeated over and over.

  73. Well said, Annalee. I am not a religious person, but I admire critical thinking and its cogent expression wherever it originates. An inspiring example of really living true to one’s conscience is Desmond T. Doss, a Conscientious Objector who had vowed never to take another’s life. Doss served as a medic in the Pacific during WWII. He refused to carry a weapon into combat. He is also the only C.O. to receive the Medal of Honor. His heroism, the lives he saved on Okinawa while under brutal enemy fire, and his survival, defy any rational explanation.

    Thank you for your post. Like Nathan, I hope the Supreme Court sees its way to drive its truck through the amply sized holes in Hobby Lobby’s argument.

  74. As an employee of Hobby Lobby, thank you for putting eloquently into words what I have struggled with. I genuinely hope they lose this lawsuit with every fiber of my being.

  75. Let’s not forget that the Green family chose to incorporate their company. Not for any tax benefits, as there is none in almost all cases of incorporation, but to remove themselves and their personal fortunes from any liability for any actions Hobby Lobby, Inc. may take, especially in regards to it’s employees (the number one litigation cost for corporations in the country.) Yet they now want to force the corporation to uphold their religious beliefs, while they still refuse to take responsibility for it. Which is it, Green family? By law, you cannot do both. And in fact, even if your Hobby Lobby was still not incorporated, you are far past the threshold from being exempt from any law.

  76. I have to disagree with David re the woman who runs her own pharmacy. So long as drugs are controlled, and one must go through those who are licensed by the state to obtain them, those who have such a license should be required to dispense *all* legal drugs. She may own her own business, but she is an agent of the state in that she is one of the few with the power to legally dispense drugs. If she doesn’t want to dispense all legal drugs, she chose the wrong business.

  77. GREAT piece, and thank you! If I could offer just one humble pick of a nit…I think you were looking for “conscientious objections”, yes?

  78. Brilliant! Thank you – this will be shared!

  79. Nola Shingledecker 2 December, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Excellent argument and compelling follow-up comments. SCOTUS refused a couple of hours ago to hear a case brought by Liberty University against the ACA. From the Supreme Court Blog:
    “For the second time in two years, the Supreme Court has refused to hear constitutional challenges to the new federal health care law’s mandate that employers provide affordable health insurance for their workers. Without comment, the Court on Monday turned aside a broad complaint about that Affordable Care Act mandate by Liberty University, a religiously affiliated college in Lynchburg, VA. Liberty also had sought review of new challenges to the individual insurance mandate, but those, too, failed with the denial of review.”
    It would appear that SCOTUS is seriously headed away from extending religious protections to corporations.

  80. […] 10. The best thing I’ve seen on the Hobby Lobby case. […]

  81. Ever hear of Desmond Doss? Medal of Honor winner in WWII. And a conscientious objector. Not the only one, either.


  82. It’s curious to me that the “conscientious objection” Hobby Lobby asserts only comes into play regarding women’s reproductive health. My chemotherapy medication is aborifactent and teratogenic. Could corporations refuse coverage least I accidentally become pregnant? I have to use birth control or I would have to have an abortion if I were to become pregnant. The problem becomes complicated quickly.

    Note, too, that Christian Scientists cannot prevent insurance companies from providing their employees blood transfusions. Nor are Scientologists able to forbid their insurance carriers from covering psychopharmaceuticals despite their beliefs.

  83. Pharmacists who refuse to fill a prescription for emergency contraception are rare, but the few who hold this belief have an obligation to get the patient and the prescription to a pharmacist who will dispense that prescription in a timely manner. This standard has been clearly endorsed by pharmacists’ national professional societies and also by many state boards of pharmacy several years ago. There need not be a conflict between a few individual’s beliefs and good medical care. It doesn’t usually require extra staff, but does require those with objections to work in areas where there’s another pharmacy across the street to accommodate their issue.

    Pharmacists save lives by not filling dangerous prescriptions. Creating laws that force pharmacists to fill prescriptions regardless of their judgement is therefore unwise. Thankfully this specific issue is increasingly irrelevant as there are now over-the-counter options.

    The larger issue is not about the few pharmacists refusals to fill emergency contraception but rather, as shown in peer reviewed studies, pharmacy staff providing misinformation about women’s access to emergency contraception. Education isn’t as exciting to write about, but it’s a bigger problem than conscience clauses.

  84. If the Green Family wants to be exempt for the ACA coverage, than they should also accept personal responsibility for any liability that their business incurs. The Right claims that the ACA gets the government between a patient and their doctor. What is this but Hobby Lobby getting between their workers, and their workers doctors?

  85. This Friend speaks my mind.

  86. not that you asked, but i adore your skills. you’ve written an extremely eloquent breakdown of the hl situation, and i just wanted to say thank you, and i’m so grateful to you for your words. they remind me that i’m not the one who’s crazy (i live in texas. ’nuff said) around here! bravo, sir.

  87. Well said! And so many thoughtful comments as well.

    Living here in the Oklahoma City area, corporate home of Hobby Lobby, we hear a lot about the company and their community activities. Through the years they have been very true to their Christian beliefs so I have no doubt this is a sincere conviction and politics has nothing to do with it.

    By the way, regular contraceptive birth control has been a part of the insurance coverage they provide for employees. It’s the “morning after” pill that triggered this action. They are among those with the mistaken belief this is an abortion pill, when it does not cause an abortion, it just prevents a pregnancy. But then again, abortions are also legal.

    I saw David Green interviewed by a local TV station over the weekend and he isn’t budging. I don’t know what he’ll do if (when) the court rules against him. They were supposed to provide all services by January 1, 2013 or face fines of up to $1.3 million a day. They refused, filed suit, and the fines were put on hold until this is resolved.


    PS – I confirmed some of what I thought I knew here:

  88. […] It betrays a complete lack of understanding of what a conscientious objection is. I came across this excellent explanation from a Quaker – a group that has experience with CO during military drafts – of why this is so […]

  89. This is a good start of an amicus brief. ;)

  90. A conscientious objector takes on the burden of the objection. That is the nature of nonviolent conscientious objection, religious or otherwise. Transferring the burden of one’s own conscientious objection onto the Other is not conscientious objection. It is assault.

  91. This Friend speaks my mind. Thank you.

  92. That is a thoughtful and outstanding post. Thank you.

  93. Here in Canada, a case of this kind is impossible, even though we have (relatively) robust protections for conscience, especially religiously-inflected conscience.

    Why not? Because we do not use corporations to deliver healthcare; everyone gets healthcare through direct government funding, and the government is religiously neutral.

    It is a historical anomaly, a consequence of wartime wage controls, that US healthcare is employer-based in substantial part. It is for that reason only that providing healthcare could lead to a crisis of conscience for an employer.

  94. Several points:

    1. The Greens claim the actions of the corporation are an extension of their moral actions when it comes to employee benefits but would not accept personal responsibility if an employee died or was injured on the job due to unsafe work conditions. They would be quick to say the liability is with the corporation, not the Greens personally.

    2. The $1.3 million a day is the maximum penalty for fraud if they sent signed, certified documents to the IRS falsely claiming they have a compliant tax- exempt health care plan. Good Christians don’t lie, so I don’t see why they would be doing this. Instead, they can actually save money by allowing their employees to buy insurance on the exchange. Even with the $2K per person fine for not offering insurance, they come out ahead and so would most of their employees if they shared their savings with them.

    3. The Greens include most contraceptives in their plan. For any employee who conscience is against contraception, they are forced to violate their conscience by paying the employee premium. The conscience exemption they ask for themselves and other bosses, they withhold from the 99% who are workers.

    4. The Greens want to keep most contraceptives in their plan but not include about four pills that they believe the FDA has wrongly determined to be contraceptives but the Greens think to be abortificients. So they are asking that years of research by the FDA be ignored and replaced by the deep and thoughtful understanding of pharmaceutical compounds by a man whose field of expertize is how to market kits of popsicle sticks that can be turned into amazing objects d’art

  95. All right folks, I’m turning off comments for the time being. I may turn them back on again later, when I have time to stay on top of the moderation queue. If your comment is still in moderation, I will get to it at my earliest convenience.

    If your comment has been deleted, it’s because it violated my comment policy, probably by being either belligerent or off-topic.

    A big thank-you to all the commenters who’ve been civil and on-topic, and who have otherwise followed the comment policy.

  96. […] though, I find articles like this, by a Quaker writer, who takes on the conscience clause Evangelicals with great aplomb and logic and I sense deep humanity and truth in her words. It’s a brilliant […]

  97. […] a Christian Scientist business owner stop offering insurance altogether to their employees? Could Quakers stop paying all of their taxes because some of them fund wars or the prison industrial […]

  98. […] Court for religious exemption from the ACA’s birth control mandate and the idea of “conscience objection” in […]

  99. Talrich, that 2011 post from which I’m quoting was a direct response to several stories of pharmacists not just refusing to fill prescriptions, but confiscating the patient’s written scrip so they couldn’t get the prescription filled elsewhere.

    I’m glad to hear that Pharmacists’ professional societies and state boards have adopted standards of conduct to prevent this kind of behavior. But your example about misinformation is just another aspect of the same problem: pharmacists engaging in unethical behavior to force their beliefs on their patients. When pharmacists do that, they should be held accountable–to their employer if they have one, and also to the state.

    And there is a world of difference between a pharmacists not filling a scrip because it’s going to endanger the patient’s health and a pharmacist refusing to fill a scrip because it’s against their religion. The blood transfusion example others have raised applies here as well: A nurse or doctor who makes the informed medical decision that a particular patient shouldn’t receive a blood transfusion is doing their job. A nurse or doctor who refuses to do blood transfusions under any circumstances is forcing their beliefs off on others and abusing the power they hold over patients.

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