By Bruce Gourley
On June 30 the United States Supreme Court, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, ruled that the religious beliefs of employers trump the free conscience and civil rights of employees.
For traditional Baptists, the decision hearkens to earlier centuries when kings and popes mandated religious dogma, denying religious liberty and freedom of conscience to their subjects. Similar to that earlier era, the religious dogma of the Green family (the Southern Baptist owners of Hobby Lobby) is now legally binding upon employees.
Baptists in Europe and America of the 17th to 19th centuries were routinely denied religious liberty and freedom of conscience by establishment churches and their governmental allies. Often forced to submit to establishment dogma or leave their homes, early Baptists insisted that freedom of conscience and religious liberty is due all persons. These Baptists shed their blood and served prison time in order to ensure that the religious beliefs of the powerful and privileged could not be forced upon citizens.
But on June 30, five male, Roman Catholic conservatives on the Supreme Court reversed the course of history and steered the United States back down the long-discredited path of the powerful and privileged, overriding the consciences and rights of ordinary citizens, in the name of religious dogma.
Similar to religious edicts of centuries ago, the particular religious dogma for which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of — opposition to birth control, or contraception — is widely discredited by America’s Christian community. Studies have shown that some 99 percent of American women of childbearing age use contraception. This number includes 98 percent of Catholic women, despite the Roman Catholic Church’s long-standing decree that birth control is a sin.
Also, reflecting an earlier era when religion dismissed scientific truths that disproved religious dogma, Hobby Lobby’s owners cite religious convictions in objecting to certain forms of birth control that they believe — despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary — cause abortions. The five majority Supreme Court justices dismissed the need for scientific evidence in decreeing that the religious convictions of business owners, whether true or false, can be forced upon employees.
Then again, the “convictions” of the Green family are clearly in question, as they have long, and widely, invested in pharmaceutical companies producing the same contraceptives that the Greens’ accuse of inducing abortions. This inherent hypocrisy calls into questions the Greens’ true motivations. Since in actual practice Hobby Lobby’s owners previously exhibited no moral qualms about supporting the so-called abortion drug industry, perhaps their purpose in suing the Obama administration was to secure legal favoritism and privilege for conservative Christians, as part of a larger, stated strategy of turning America into a Christian nation?
In the Hobby Lobby case and other recent decisions, the conservative Roman Catholic Supreme Court majority certainly seem bent on elevating Christianity above other religions. Most notably, a May 5 ruling (Town of Greece v. Galloway) allows local government officials to discriminate against non-Christian American citizens.
The corporate scope of the Hobby Lobby decision is expansive, allowing 90 percent of American businesses (of which Christianity represents the majority faith among ownership) to, in the name of the owners’ religious dogma, legally discriminate against the consciences and civil rights of employees, affecting some 52 percent of the American workforce.
Contraception is the beginning. The door is now cracked open for most corporations, Christian-owned or otherwise, to impose a wide range of religious dogma upon America’s workforce. How far open will this door swing? And how clear-headed are the Greens, the conservative Roman Catholic Supreme Court majority, and the legions of other conservative Christian nationalists in allowing the religious beliefs of employers to supersede the rights and beliefs of employees?
For example, the second-largest shareholder of News Corps, parent of Fox News, is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Muslim. The way has been paved for News Corp to decree that women employees must wear Islamic garb, and that all employees must pray five times a day toward Mecca. The many Mormon-owned corporations (Mormonism being “the most capitalist religion”) can now, if they wish, set their sights on requiring employees to abstain from coffee and tea while on the job, or mandate the wearing of Mormon sacred garments as a part of the workplace dress code.
Early Baptists in America, a persecuted minority considered heretics by establishment Christian colonial theocracies, understood that freedom of conscience and religious liberty must apply equally to all. They gave their all to bring about an egalitarian vision of freedom. That some of their faith descendants would betray this great Baptist vision and instead demand special, and discriminatory, favoritism to the powerful and privileged is unconscionable, not to mention in opposition to Jesus and the Gospels.
America’s — and Baptists’ — hard-fought heritage of church and state separation is now endangered by five radical members of the Supreme Court who, in the space of two months, have twice decreed that the religious dogmas of powerful and privileged Christians must be favored over and against the rights of ordinary citizens.
Now is the time for all faithful Baptists to join the majority of other Americans, religious and secular, in demanding a halt to any further attempts to allow religiously dogmatic business owners and government officials to discriminate against employees and citizens.