July 1, 2014

What To Do With Your Outrage Over the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio
Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio (Photo credit: Nicholas Eckhart)
Everyone has heard about the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby by now. And if your experience is anything like mine, most of what you have heard has been heavy on the outrage and light on the facts. Although few of us were surprised by the decision, we're still disappointed by it. Aside from the examples I've seen of some people taking this too far, I don't see anything wrong with venting one's frustrations over another poor decision from this conservative court. And yet, it would be a real shame if we cannot figure out how to translate this outrage into meaningful change.

I was late in hearing about the ruling yesterday, and I'm still playing catch-up. My work day began with my discovery of an inch of standing water on the floor in a lab area where something like this has the potential to cause significant damage. Things went downhill from there, so I'm not exaggerating when I say that I did not even have the opportunity to check Twitter. When I eventually made it home, I didn't even remembered that the decision was expected until I took a look at Twitter.

Feelings of outrage are perfectly understandable but not always informative. Some legal experts point out that this ruling was narrowly constructed; others complain that it is overly broad. I have not read the opinions yet, but I am aware that it may take years for us to know who was right about its scope. What matters is how lower courts are going to read it, and we won't know that for awhile.

What You Can Do

What I'd like to suggest is that we see if we can direct the current outrage into accomplishing something productive. Three options occur to me, all of which may have some merit:
  1. Urge the Obama Administration to subsidize contraceptive coverage for anyone affected by this ruling.
  2. Boycott Hobby Lobby.
  3. Pressure Congress to repeal or modify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
It seems very likely that the Obama Administration will step in to subsidize contraceptives for the employees affected by this ruling. I doubt they'll even need any encouragement from us. Unfortunately, this would only be a short-term fix. A future Republican administration could easily drop such a subsidy, and it would be a shame to have to keep fighting over something as important as contraception. A more permanent fix for providing contraception is needed.

Many are already taking to the Internet to call for a boycott on Hobby Lobby. I've refused to set foot in a Hobby Lobby for the past few years, so you'll get no argument against such an approach from me. We should feel no obligation to support religious businesses. It is just that I am not particularly confident that it will produce the desired consequences unless it proves to be far larger and lasts far longer than I can imagine. As much as I understand the impulse to punish Hobby Lobby, the real problem seems to rest with our Congress and the Supreme Court.

Another option is to focus our attention on getting Congress to repeal or modify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. If you are upset about this ruling and want to do something meaningful about it, consider contacting your representatives in the House and Senate and asking them to introduce or sign onto a bill to repeal or change the RFRA (here's a sample letter calling for repeal). If you are a fan of the RFRA and don't want to see the whole thing repealed, you could request an exemption for the Affordable Care Act instead.
Remember, outrage can be a good thing when it drives constructive action. Without such action though, it amounts to little more than idle complaining.

Update: I see that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has issued an action alert recommending that we contact our members of Congress to push for the repeal of the RFRA.

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