Hobby Lobby’s Real Agenda: Taking Your Religious Freedom

Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

The Green family of Oklahoma, who own and operate the Hobby Lobby chain of craft supply stores, has been in the news in recent months because of their lawsuit, which has made it all the way to the Supreme Court, demanding the right to offer health insurance that doesn’t meet federal minimum standards but to get the tax benefits for doing so anyway. The Greens argue that because their personal religion forbids the use of certain forms of contraception, their employees should not be able to use their own health insurance plans to access that contraception.

While that case has gotten a lot of coverage, it’s hardly the only legally thorny issue the Greens have been involved in recently. Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, has also been in the news, albeit in a much less spectacular fashion, because of his meddling with local public school curriculum. Green has spearheaded an effort to get Bible study as an extracurricular class in Oklahoma public schools, and has found success in the Mustang School District, which covers a suburban area around Oklahoma City.

Green is well aware that the First Amendment strictly forbids this use of taxpayer resources in religious instruction, so he has claimed that the class is about the history of the Bible through an anthropological and literary lens. Readers will no doubt be unsurprised to learn that this claim has turned out to be untrue. As reported by the Associated Press, while the curriculum does cover some of the promised material, discussing the Bible as a historical and literary document, it also has some old-fashioned preaching in it.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation got its hands on the textbook for the class and is drawing attention to some of its more egregious proselytizing:

Perhaps the best example of the Christian bias of the book is the question it asks and answers: “What is God like?” It goes on to list only positive attributes (“Faithful and good,” “gracious and compassionate,” “orderly and disciplined,” “full of love”) or theologically Christian attributes (“always was, always will be,” “ever-present help in times of trouble,” “righteous judge”). God’s negative aspects go unmentioned. For instance, according to the same bible in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5), it says, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” Not only does God admit jealousy, he promises to punish innocent children for the crimes of their parents in the Ten Commandments. Any fair, balanced listing of God’s attributes must include those which he allegedly gives himself.

The book also treats the Bible like an accurate representation of history, which it of course is not.

The Green family says they’re suing the Department of Health and Human Services over the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act because they believe in “religious freedom,” but this Bible curriculum shows how farcical a claim that is. Far from wanting the state to leave people be on the subject of religion, they instead want to use the school system—and taxpayer money—to foist their own, very narrow view of Christianity on students. The fact that the class is an elective makes no difference. Students are told they’re getting a class in history and literature, and instead are subject to Sunday school teachings, and if they aren’t compliant with it, they risk hurting their GPA. The Affordable Care Act’s provision that employers provide their employees with insurance that covers a full range of preventive health services, including contraception, is a secular law that doesn’t meaningfully affect anyone’s practice of their religion—no one is forced to take birth control—but kids in the Oklahoma Bible study class are actually having their understanding of history, as well as potentially their personal religious beliefs, manipulated by a dishonest curriculum.

Taken together, it’s clear that the Green family is not interested in “religious freedom.” Instead, the Greens seem to have an agenda of finding as many ways as they can to force their religious beliefs on others, by trying to get people at work and at school to submit to their fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The contraception lawsuit is about trying to push their religious agenda on their employees by manipulating their benefits packages. And their Bible course is a clear-cut example of trying to inject religious teachings into public schools.

This is the religious right’s strategy: Chip away, little by little, at your religious freedom and make it so your choices, job, and education are all subject to complying with their religion. It’s exquisitely incremental—a Bible course here, a loss of benefits there. The idea is to chip away at our rights so slowly, and to make each victory so small, that the public doesn’t notice that our rights are slowly draining away.

The model for this strategy, of course, is the anti-choice movement, which has been using a similar strategy of passing one law after another, building each small strike against abortion access on top of another. Each strike, taken by itself, may not have seemed to amount to much. But after four decades of this, anti-choice advocates are now on the cusp of wiping out legal abortion access in most of Texas and all of Mississippi. The same strategy, as exemplified by the Greens, is now being used to chip away at your ability to live a life that isn’t constrained by the rules of a religion that you don’t follow (and which may in fact be contrary to everything you believe).

That’s something to keep in mind the next time someone suggests it’s not a big deal to let Hobby Lobby dodge federal law requiring that its benefits packages include contraception access for those who want it. If they win this round, many employees may be prevented from accessing contraception, and the Greens will continue to build on these victories. That’s the point: to chip and chip away, until your right to choose for yourself if you use contraception has disappeared, and you don’t even know how it went away.

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  • TheBrett

    That class sounds like a great opportunity for some subversion. I wonder if you could talk some of the students taking it into introducing some real archaeology and historical issues with the Bible into class discussion, regardless of what the teacher is trying to teach.

    • CJ99

      hopefully the schoolboard wouldn’t allow the “teacher” to expel or otherwise use the system to abuse anyone who exposes their buffoonery.

  • John H

    The LAST thing people like Green want is a class on the history of the Christian Bibles (there are dozens of versions, at least) through historical/anthropological/literary lenses. Actually reading a Christian Bible, especially with an eye to the context of its production, is a leading reason for becoming atheists cited by former Christians.

    • CJ99

      many former christians who turned away from it also know the bible (all its sordid variations) far better than the extremist buffoons do.


    If they want to teach the Bible in school…..okay. Teach it from a secular point of view. Teach the contradictions, and the horrors. Teach about the millions who perished due to the Bible’s interpretability. Teach the inquisition and the crusades, from the victim’s point of view.

  • fiona64

    This is just another example of the Dominionist/Reconstructionist movement at work. I have been saying for years that we ignore these people at our own peril. They want nothing less than a theocracy based on their own personal version of Christianity … complete with Biblical punishment. Don’t believe me? Read some of the writings of the late Chuck Colson and R.J. Rushdoony. They were all about this stuff … and they have followers.

    • Black Frog

      Rushdoony and consistent Christian reconstructionists have no interest whatsoever in introducing Bible classes into public schools. If you actually read their literature, you’d understand their only goal regarding public education is defunding it because, in God’s economy, there is no justification for state sponsored education, healthcare, welfare, etc. Rushdoony’s legacy is defending the right to homeschool. He recognized only evil results from state-sponsored education and there is no point in incrementally trying to reform it. Christian reconstruction most closely resembles pure libertarianism; it bears no resemblence to theocratic totalitarianism.

      • CJ99

        Those artificial distincions in no way justify their actions.

      • fiona64

        … both of which are completely undesirable in a pluralistic society.

      • Jennifer Starr

        Wasn’t it Rushdoony who once referred to stoning as a fun family activity? I’m quoting loosely because I can’t remember the exact words, but I think it was something to that effect.

        • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

          Sounds like something the freak would say.

        • fiona64

          He advocated for a return to biblical punishments, including stoning.

          And here’s a fascinating article that refers to just that: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1022117/posts

  • CJ99

    A thought occurred to me is that Hobby Lobby can and certainly should be legally defined as a hate group then dealt with as such.

  • http://www.liberaljungle.com/ Wanna Talk

    The Supreme Court made an excellent decision about the Greece, New York town meetings.

    • fiona64

      So, you’ll be okay with Muslim, Wiccan or Buddhist invocations, then? I hope so … because that’s the only fair way to handle it.

  • Guest

    Hmm…so Hobby Lobby employees are preventing from buying Plan B and ella? Hmm. Didn’t know that. How does Hobby Lobby stop them?

    • Cactus_Wren

      They’re not preventing them: they’re simply saying “WE don’t approve of what you’re buying with YOUR compensation, so we’re going to refuse to pay it or deduct part of it.” The insurance coverage is just as much a part of an employee’s compensation as his or her paycheck. It’s comparable to saying “We, your Catholic employers, don’t approve of your eating meat during Lent, so we’re going to deduct the portion of your paycheck that would go for meat.” Or, “We, your Jewish employers, don’t approve of your eating pork, so we’re going to deduct the portion of your paycheck that would go for bacon or ham.”

    • CJ99

      No the employees are prevented from using health insurance THEY PAY FOR THEMSELVES. Only the willfully stupid or fanatics would claim otherwise,

  • Truth Teller

    AS always, there is no lie too egregious, too absurd, too devoid of common sense and even human decency that the religious reich wackos will not use it in their drive to impose their sick beliefs upon others.

    • CJ99

      Can’t say about some religions such as Shinto or Buhddism but those that arouse from the mideast such as Christianity, Jodaism, Islam are dangerous forms of mental illness. And the only mental illnesses that are not only willfully untreated but spread deliberately.

  • jruwaldt

    It’s quite interesting that Christians insist on using curricula that paint Christianity in the most positive light. Then, when a book comes out about Islam, they slam it for not talking enough about the bad aspects of Islam, as though every Muslim were a terrorist or terrorist supporter.