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Hobby Lobby Case

There is something of a connection between the efforts by Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthday is celebrated tomorrow, and the recent Hobby Lobby Case. Unfortunately that connection indicates our American society is deteriorating.

A human being is a social creature. As early communities grew in population, a natural specialization in labor arose, where each person could offer their own unique contribution to society, rather than just being another hunter or another farmer in the community. As communities became even larger, eventually the concept of a business arose, where a group of people would work together to contribute some particular goods and/or services to the community, something that individuals could not do as efficiently.

Eventually the concept of a limited liability company arose, where the owners of a business would be protected from a loss in their business. If the business failed, all of their personal possessions and wealth would not be lost as well. This legal structure could offer comfort to entrepeneurs so they could take on new business ventures to provide new/improved/alternate goods and services to their community while not risking everything they owned, knowing many businesses fail in their early years for a variety of reasons. This article describes five common reasons, to explain why 80% of businesses fail.

While communities were small, crime was never much of a problem because everyone knew everyone else. Misbehavior could be addressed between the individuals - as the familiarity provided trust. As communities grew too large, some degree of government was required for the arbitration of conflicts between strangers. Businesses were supposedly based on sound economic principles, not on personal prejudices, so society expected each business to be run impersonal and fair to all, to the benefit of society rather than the business run as a facade for unethical management.

Historically, our government is tasked with making society more efficient. Among those tasks is the need to overcome obstacles due to individual bad behaviors, so police investigate then catch possible offenders and the judicial system will punish those found to be guilty of an offense. As states became larger, and the businesses in the economy became larger, the government also had to take on the bad behaviors in those businesses. Academic studies have found the economic class most likely to lie, cheat, or steal is the rich, and so it should not be surprising that businesses will also, without effective regulations and enforcement, lie, cheat, or steal.  When there is a lack of accountability, or the euphoria of power, misbehavior becomes more likely. Over the long history of modern civilization, government agencies have been trying to deal with the corrupting influences of modern business, as well as the abuse of its employees and customers.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (in 1865) abolished slavery (i.e., a person treated as property) and involuntary servitude (i.e., labor against one's will).

The rising public concern of Americans about the growing power of corporations in the 19th Century, especially the railroads, led to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The act created the Interstate Commerce Commission to monitor compliance with the new regulations. The rates being charged had to be 'just and reasonable' and the railroads could not 'give preference, advantage, special rates to any person, company, location, city, or type of traffic.' The railroads had the widespread practice of offering free transportation to opinion leaders (elected officials, media editors, ministers, etc.) to press their advantage.

The Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 created the FTC whose mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices. The National Labor Relations Board was formed in 1933 to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices.

Anyone familiar with the history of these government agencies is quite aware of how they were eventually manipulated by the corporations being affected, known as regulatory capture.

Though the regulations are difficult to sustain due to the interference by those being monitored, it is quite clear those in government in the past were quite aware of the necessity for these regulations. Corporations when unchecked will pursue activities to their sole benefit, to the detriment of the public. There is the inherent imbalance of power, with those businesses affected by the regulations focusing their resources to gain the policies they prefer while the public is somewhat detached, expecting the agency to act in the public interest. We live in a representative democracy where our elected leaders are supposed to make the government work to the benefit of the populace.

The civil rights demonstrations in the 1950's and 1960's were a little different than the railroad complaints in the 19th Century. The railroads were not being fair in dealing with their customer, by offering different rates to benefit some to the detriment of others. The civil rights efforts were fighting actual discrimination where the blacks were denied service or access, or they received inferior services, from businesses as well as government agencies, which followed what were called Jim Crow Laws.

Without expounding on the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr's role in that movement, the end result is Americans and the American political system realized that government and businesses cannot be allowed to discriminate. America has a diverse population, with a variety of races and ethnicities, and all the people are entitled to receive the same goods and services as anyone else in the population. All lives matter.

In light of that recent history, the recent Hobby Lobby case is an abomination. Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts company founded by David Green and owned by his family which strongly professes evangelical Christian beliefs, with over 20000 employees. The family believes women should not have access to contraception and claims their employees should not have access to them as the act of allowing access offends their religion. In 2012 Hobby Lobby filed suit against the enforcement of the requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that birth control should be covered in employer health care plans. The case went through several courts until it reached the top of the judicial system, the US Supreme Court. In 2014, the Supreme Court, with the official judgment provided by the 5 Catholic judges who often side with corporations over public interest in their SCOTUS cases and apparently also have little regard for women as well, directed the mandate in the ACA could not apply to closely held corporations whose owners have religious objections.

The reactions were very strong for those opposed to this mix of religion into politics and corporate regulations.

Christians often talk of one's personal relationship with God. If the person does not conform to God's will or does not understand God's will, that person is subject to account for such decisions by God's judgment on one's death. If a woman is violating God's will by using birth control, then for a Christian that decision should be between God and the woman. It certainly makes no sense for a woman's employer to be part of that decision or a part of God's judgment.

As this suit was brought by Hobby Lobby and their rich, evangelical owners, there are several possible reasons.

a) In the Old Testament, the ancient Jews were a patriarchal society where the woman was the property of her husband. One possible justification is the male owners of Hobby Lobby, both David Green and his son Mart Green were involved in the case, feel they can make such decisions for the female employees because they are Christian men. Even though modern civilization has been fairly successful at eradicating such practices (women are now widely recognized as independent human beings, not property of men, just as holding slaves as property is no longer tolerated), perhaps the Green family still feels women are their property.

b) The second possible reason is the evangelical Christian Green family members feel they know God's will and they are enforcing it on their employers. Rather than the women waiting until death to hear God's judgment on their personal decisions, the company owners are enforcing God's will right now. As birth control and contraception are never mentioned in the Bible, if this is the reason why Hobby Lobby management justifies making critical health care decisions for their female employees then the arrogance being demonstrated is quite overwhelming. Anyone who claims to know God's will with such absolute certainty is either delusional or a charlatan.

c) The third possible reason, perhaps the most likely, is the owners of the company are both rich and Christian, and wish to demonstrate they are not subject to the rules applicable to everyone else. They do not want to have anything to do with any law they do not like, their employees (especially the women) are always subject to their whims, and they want the government to allow them to ignore this law attempting to give women more control over their health. When the entire political system is slanted toward corporations over employees, Hobby Lobby had the opportune moment to pursue this tactic.

The combination of the probability c being the real reason for the suit and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the corporate owners over the right of the women to control their own health care reveals much about the current state of the American political system.

Four days after the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled in a similar manner in another case, but involving Wheaton College. The Hobby Lobby judgment justified itself by the use of an alternative being available outside of the employer plan and then the ruling 4 days later claimed there did not have to be an alternative to plan, so the requirement could just be ignored by the employer, to the detriment of the employee.

The American political system can now be officially declared broken (if that was not recognized already). The US Constitution was based on the principle of checks and balances, where the three branches of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, would oppose each other to prevent corruption. Now all three have fully demonstrated their intent to support corporate rights over any rights of the citizens. The election process for those in Congress and in the White House is dominated by corporate funding so those special interests buy the representation they need. There had been some campaign reform regulations implemented in an attempt to prevent excessive behaviors in this 'buy your representative' auction but the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court sided with the corporations, where every dollar from someone in the rich ruling class is entitled to its vote (as parodied so well by the Onion). All three branches now follow corporate interests, with the SCOTUS clearly demonstrating its loyalty with the two cases mentioned above.

American history shows there have been cycles with more or less corporate regulation, with rises in the late 19th Century after the huge demonstrations by worker groups seeking the 8 hour day and 40 hour week, another rise in the Great Depression as it was clear corporate and financial corruption had lead to the economic disaster, and another rise at the time of the Civil Rights movement. Those cycles took place while the elected representatives still maintained some interest in their constituencies. The court system also had its cycles sometimes offering some accountability on legislation (like 1954 Brown v Board of Education of Topeka), while at other times ruling against citizens (like the Debs v US and Abrams v US, both in 1919 where people were arrested for speaking against the war efforts, and again in 2010 with Holder v Humanitarian Law Project where the court ruled against a group attempting to help certain foreign groups peacefully resolve conflicts). The recent passage of the Patriot Act and the ongoing unrestrained surveillance by the NSA demonstrate the current political cycle is against corporate regulation and against the interests of the citizens.

The observance of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday is celebrated nationally. He was a critical participant in the peaceful demonstrations held roughly 50 years ago to force business and political leaders to recognize all human beings must be treated with respect, by ending the many systems of racial discrimination (in business and in governance). The many recent reports of policemen murdering unarmed black men indicate our political system is again moving toward one lacking any justice or fairness, implying whatever progress made in the years around the life of Martin Luther King Jr are probably lost. The civil rights demonstrations of the 1960’s were the last time public demonstrations were successful at bringing about political change. The Hobby Lobby Case indicates rather than all human beings being treated with respect, especially women, the corporate interests of the business owners take priority.

It is very difficult to see how this bias throughout the American national government system (all three branches) toward corporate benefits and toward more authoritarian rule can be overcome given the pervasive corruption in the election process. There is no mechanism of accountability remaining for the populace to begin reform.

created - January 2015
last change - 01/18/2015
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