Erick Erickson inadvertently proves my point: Why the contraception case is so important

When I asked a question about corporations adopting religious identities, the responses were rather illuminating

Topics: Contraception, contraception mandate, Birth Control, Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, Erick Erickson, Editor's Picks, The Right, GOP,

Erick Erickson inadvertently proves my point: Why the contraception case is so importantErick Erickson (Credit: CNN)

To a still unappreciated extent, the questions at the heart of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, now before the Supreme Court, are about more than contraception, per se, or the particular religious beliefs of Hobby Lobby’s owners. They have to do with competition between the rights of employers and workers, or perhaps between the rights of different employers.

In the Hobby Lobby case, employers are claiming that their religious liberties trump their employees’ newly established right to contraceptive coverage. But a similar claim could come from any company with respect to any number of laws and regulations. And to prevail, they’d need the Supreme Court to rule that an incorporated business — like Hobby Lobby — is a religious creature in its own right. Hobby Lobby, the corporate entity, needs the court to provide it either a First Amendment right to free practice of religion, or the right to assert claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In some way its owners’ religious identity needs to be transferred to the corporation.

And in either case we’re wandering into new territory. After enduring for all these years without such a right, suddenly for-profit corporations say they’re being trammeled without it. Obamacare may have forced the issue, but this isn’t so different from the rights conservatives were seeking in Arizona and elsewhere, in anticipation of an ever rising tide of LGBT rights.

So on Tuesday I asked in earnest,

The responses were largely not edifying. That’s partly on me. My question was somewhat vague, and to people who hadn’t read a couple of my recent articles or been following the legal arguments in Hobby Lobby closely, it probably looked like I was asking, “Why would anyone want to run a religious business?” Obviously there are thousands and thousands of businesses that serve religious people, market themselves as religious, encourage religious ethos and so forth. That doesn’t befuddle me in the slightest.

What I’m really asking is, “How could the new right Hobby Lobby et al. are seeking be used other than to trump the rights of third parties?” or “How were religious entrepreneurs harmed for all the years they lacked a right like this?”

I still don’t have a good answer.

Red State’s Erick Erickson gave it his best shot. But he inadvertently confirmed the premise of my question.

“[N]o one is arguing religious entrepreneurs were harmed ‘all the years they lacked’ the right to operate as religious for the very reason that up until now they’ve been left alone,” he said. “It is only now, but with compulsion to bake cakes for gay weddings and provide funding to subsidize abortions, etc. that we are having this fight. Christians assumed they had the right, the state left them alone, and everyone went about their business.”

I think there’s quite a bit of case law out there disproving Erickson’s assertion that religious business owners “have been left alone” up until Barack Obama became president. And it’s worth noting that before Obama came along, Hobby Lobby was voluntarily providing coverage for the forms of contraception that they (and Erickson) now erroneously describe as abortifacient.

But notice, he acknowledges that the reason Hobby Lobby et al. are asserting new rights is to trump others they don’t agree with. They only need the new rights in order to deny service to customers they don’t like, and protections to employees (current or prospective) when they disagree with them.

In every other way, Hobby Lobby’s owners, and other religious business owners, are free to run their corporations as if they were quasi-religious institutions. Erickson adds, “I can assure Brian Beutler that Christians do not wish to operate their businesses as a burden to others, but as a blessing. Hobby Lobby is a great example of that. The corporation pays its workers well above minimum wage, it closes earlier than its competitors each day, it closes on Sunday, and it gives solid benefits — medical, dental, and retirement.”

All praise to Hobby Lobby for adopting these practices, but notice they required no special rights to do so. By contrast, if for whatever reason their religious beliefs ran into conflict with minimum wage laws in the other direction, I’d argue that the law trumps their beliefs, and so, I imagine, would the vast majority of Americans (labor market forces notwithstanding).

One of my social media correspondents said the answer to my question could be found in the dissenting to this 1988 9th Circuit opinion. The whole ruling is worth a read, but the facts of the case are suddenly, eerily, more pertinent than the opinions, because the question at hand was whether the religious owners of a closely held corporation could compel employees (existing ones, at that) to attend religious services at work, during work hours.

Right now, the country’s not in the midst of a culture war over the minimum wage, or the propriety of compelling workers to attend worship. It’s in the midst of culture wars over reproductive and LGBT rights, in secular arenas. But rather than accept the public’s rendering (which the religious imposed on same-sex couples for years and years, and still do where they can) conservatives are seeking generalized waivers from their obligations under the social contract.

That’s precisely what this case is about. Abridgment of third-party rights. Because there are no selfless purposes to which business owners aspire that the lack of a corporate right to free practice of religion deprives them of.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...