I don’t often comment on news or current events on this blog, though I have done so a few times. This blog is primarily about history, writing, and things that I find interesting, not partisan politics. But I do feel compelled to speak up about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, commonly known as the “Hobby Lobby” decision. The decision is deeply troubling, not only on policy grounds, but on religious ones too.
I’m a person of faith. I’m an ex-atheist, and I’m in the process of converting to Judaism. Rick Jacobs, Steve Fox, Marla Feldman, and David Saperstein, all rabbis in the Reform movement, recently issued a statement condemning the decision as inimical to the religious values of their Jewish faith. Although I’m not a Reform Jew, I agree strongly with their statement. The Hobby Lobby decision weakens, not strengthens, religious freedom in the United States. It’s horrible policy, but it’s even worse theology.
A corporation cannot have a religious belief. It just can’t. It’s like claiming a toaster or a park bench has a religion. Religion is a uniquely human institution, a convocation of human beings who come together and create a faith that unites their communities and gives meaning and richness to their lives. Only human beings can do that; pretending that business interests have any place in that sacred institution is, to me, deeply offensive on a moral level. The legally spurious assertion by the Supreme Court majority claiming that a corporation can have religious faith cheapens and trivializes religious belief. Pretending that Exxon Mobil or Union Carbide corporation could pray at the Western Wall, or receive the sacrament at St. Peter’s Basilica, is a sick and grotesque mockery of what faith is supposed to be about.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a leading light in modern Jewish thought as well as the legal realm, delivered a blistering dissent in the case of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Burwell.
Furthermore, the supposed religious “values” that the Court majority agreed Hobby Lobby should be able to exercise are diametrically at odds not just with the Jewish tradition, but the Christian one that Hobby Lobby’s owners claim to honor. The faith I’m coming to learn through the Tanakh–a book that is a large part of the Christian Bible–stresses community cohesion, social justice and the empowerment of individuals. Contraception is as old as the human race itself. Giving women and their partners the right and the practical ability to choose how, when and under what circumstances to have children makes for happier children, better lives and stronger families. The demonstrably false equation between contraception and murder–which is really the bottom line in Hobby Lobby’s objection to funding contraception for its employees–is insulting to the intelligence as well as to common sense.
The Supreme Court’s decision also violates another bedrock belief of both Judaism and Christianity: that worship of material riches should never be vaunted above human values. The Hobby Lobby decision literally takes rights away from women and gives them to corporations and business interests. That’s the definition of valuing economic interests over human ones. Corporations are legal vehicles for the accumulation of capital, nothing more. They are not and can never be as important as the welfare of real human beings. The tradition that lies at the very heart of Judaism–observation of the Sabbath–exists in part to remind us that our human connections, our families, our friends and our faith are far more important than our work, our businesses or our material wealth. That the Supreme Court chose to cloak the utter inversion of this important idea in the language of “protecting religious freedom” is simply shameful.
The Hobby Lobby decision is wrong. It’s bad law, bad policy, and altogether a bad idea. It makes me feel ashamed not merely as an American, but as a Jew.