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Hobby Lobby and Me

A feminist of faith speaks about the Hobby Lobby case

By Talia Weisberg

Liberals and conservatives alike have been abuzz over the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which states that corporations can be exempted from a law to which their owners object from a religious standpoint. The case began with the Affordable Care Act mandate that their employers cover birth control. This stipulation made the evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts supply store chain, feel that their right to freedom of religion had been disrespected. They took their case to court, and the justices sided with them.

As a person of faith and a feminist, I object to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case.

I am an Orthodox Jew who lives according to the strictures of my faith–only eating kosher food and abstaining from work every Saturday. A follower of normative Orthodox halakha (Jewish law), I – in my personal life – hold that birth control is permissible only in specific instances, and only when used in accordance with rabbinical consultation. Consequently, I understand why Hobby Lobby’s owners feel ill at ease with birth control; my own religious beliefs are not too dissimilar from theirs.

However, if I one day own a corporation, I will not expect my religious objections to supersede my employees’ right to adequate health care and the choice to use the Pill or IUDs. Hobby Lobby is an employer, not a member of the clergy or a practitioner of medicine. Consequently, it should not have the right to make religious or health decisions for its workers. Hobby Lobby has no right to refuse to pay for its employees’ healthcare, regardless of whether the health decisions its workers make adhere to its religious standards.

Though Hobby Lobby’s owners and I share a commitment to religious convictions, their expression of it is very foreign to me. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, in a world where modernity and religiosity were supposed to work in tandem, rather than in opposition. My parents instilled in me the Judaic values relevant to life in America today, and the Hobby Lobby case brings to mind some of the core lessons my parents and community imparted to me.

Growing up, I was taught to value the separation of church and state. A conflation of the two tends to be bad news for religious minorities, and I always knew that Jews – particularly Orthodox ones – were a tiny percentage of the overall population. Historically, when Jews lived under theocracies or were ruled by governments whose leaders were possessed of a religious fervor, it was rarely a portent of good things to come. The statehouse is supposed to be a secular institution that does not interfere with religious issues, and it’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court forgot about this.

If someone wants to do something against Judaism or Orthodoxy, nu, let them do it, how does it hurt you? Why needlessly get involved in other people’s personal issues? If the woman down the block from me is taking birth control pills, how does it affect my life in any way? Why would her actions be any of my business? Live and let live; let her practice birth control however she feels comfortable with it, and I will too.

Certainly, not every Orthodox Jew would agree with these values; several have made a career out of campaigning against “dangers to society,” such as reproductive choice. However, my Judaism has never been one that is defined through limits on the freedoms of others. My Judaism is a set of divine rules that I have taken upon myself, and would never impose on anyone else. I believe that these are holy laws, but to force them on others is at best unkind and at worse sacrilege.

From a legal perspective, this case sets a frightening precedent. The Onion recently posted a satire piece reporting that Hobby Lobby stoned a gay employee to death and was protected by the law for its actions. Though the article was intended as humor, perhaps it is a harbinger of times to come. If Hobby Lobby can say that it won’t cover birth control for religious reasons, where will the line be drawn? Can it also refuse to employ queer folks, “for religious reasons”? Will Jewish and Muslim employers be spared from covering medications made with pork products? If a company is owned by someone who follows Christian Science, can it legally refuse to provide health insurance for any employee? There’s no telling how far companies looking to save a few bucks will go, using religious convictions as their guise. Yes, I am a committed feminist.

Yes, I am a committed Orthodox Jew. Yes, I am committed to universal access to birth control. None of these three are contradictory, and all of them contribute to my belief that the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was flawed and foolish.

Talia Weisberg '17 lives in Lowell House. Her column will appear every two weeks this summer. 

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