Hobby Lobby has a conscience, too By Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
By Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
This is almost getting old: at the same time that the federal government is arguing that family-owned business can’t have a conscience, it is lauding big businesses for exercising their conscience in a way that the government likes. Not long ago, it was CVS; this week, it’s clothing superstore Gap. Gap announced Tuesday that, based on its “strong set of values,” it wants to “live up to our promise [to] ‘do more than sell clothes,’” and so it is doing the “right” thing “for our company” by raising its minimum hourly wage from $9 to $10 (starting next year). This type of wage increase, of course, is precisely what President Obama has been recently pushing to make mandatory for all businesses. The same day that Gap made its announcement, President Obama stopped by a Manhattan Gap store for a shopping photo-op to praise Gap’s conscientious decision.
Family-owned Hobby Lobby has been paying its full-time employees a significantly higher minimum wage—now at $14 an hour— for years. They do that because their owners, the Green family, believe that God calls them to treat their workers well. But don’t expect praise from the government. While it may approve this exercise of conscience, the government doesn’t like other ways that the Greens live their faith through their work at Hobby Lobby. So, to clear the way for it to punish those other exercises of faith without having to face scrutiny under religious liberty laws, the government argues that Hobby Lobby doesn’t have a conscience at all.
Get it? Big-business Gap, Inc., has a conscience. Even-bigger-business CVS has a conscience. Their consciences are good and praiseworthy. But because family-owned Hobby Lobby doesn’t have a government-approved conscience, it doesn’t get to have a conscience at all.
To be clear, Gap and CVS aren’t claiming to act out of a religious obligation—they’re large companies with religiously-diverse shareholders, so it would be tough for them to do so. But they’re still acting out of their shared values and following their conscience. And it couldn’t be clearer that what the government really cares about isn’t whether businesses have consciences, but whether those consciences toe the ruling party’s line.