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Why you shouldn’t be asking “Can I shop at Hobby Lobby?” by Mark Rienzi Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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by Mark Rienzi Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

The Green family of Hobby Lobby
The Green family won their case at the Supreme Court in June 2014.

A new complicity argument from opponents of religious liberty?

Well, here’s something I didn’t expect to read about in the New York Times.

You may recall that the Times strongly opposed the efforts by the Green family (who own Hobby Lobby) to avoid paying for abortion-inducing drugs. Hobby Lobby employees, of course, are free to spend their money on these drugs (or anything else) if they want to. But the Greens did not want to be complicit in abortion and therefore asked not to pay for the drugs. The Times derided the Greens’ effort to step aside as trying to “impose their religious views on employees.”

The Times’ argument was misplaced, of course, which is why the Greens won their case—the government has lots of ways to provide drugs to people, and does not need to force anyone to violate their religion in the process. A person’s desire not to be complicit in someone else’s actions—whether abortion, or capital punishment, or hurting the environment—is not “imposing” anything on anyone. It is simply a normal way that moral grown-ups think about the effects of their own actions on the world.

Maybe the Times is coming around. In its weekly ethics column called “The Ethicists,” the ethics experts at the Times answered a letter by someone vexed by the Hobby Lobby decision. The writer loves crafts, and loves Hobby Lobby stores, but apparently disapproves of Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit. The writer asked if continuing to shop at Hobby Lobby was ethically permissible if perhaps “offset” by making contributions to Planned Parenthood.

The three ethicists at the Times give their advice—they all seem to think the writer, if she believes Hobby Lobby is evil, should just stop shopping there. But what is interesting is that no one in the column mocks the ethical question or thinks the letter writer is proposing some new and strange type of ethical stand. Apparently a desire not to be complicit in Hobby Lobby’s desire not to be complicit in abortion is perfectly comprehensible, and did not need to be criticized as “imposing” the writer’s views on others (though one ethicist did suggest the writer could be more pluralistic).

In the big picture, the letter writer’s concern is not so strange. Every day people choose to spend or donate their money (or not spend or not donate their money) in ways that have moral significance to them. In that sense, the Green family and the letter writer have something in common: they are thoughtful and concerned about the impact of the money they spend and the activities they support. They obviously disagree about abortion; but in a free country, it is good that both parties are free to decide for themselves what causes to support or not support.