The Lessons of the New Mississippi RFRA that Shed Light on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Cases Pending at the Supreme Court

Posted in: Employment Law

A few weeks after the oral argument in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius cases on March 25, Mississippi passed its new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was sold as a “restoration” of prior law, but, of course, as I have explained quite clearly, it does not “restore” anything but rather institutes a new and essentially un-American regime.

Hobby Lobby and the Pandora’s Box of Corporate Law

The Hobby Lobby case, of course, deals in part with the question whether the federal RFRA was or is intended to benefit the owners of large, for-profit, nonreligious corporations. Hobby Lobby’s interpretation that it does would open the floodgates to exempt every business owner in the United States from the anti-discrimination laws, because there is no real middle ground. The forces behind Hobby Lobby have tried to argue that the Court should hold for Hobby Lobby because it is “closely held,” but that would not limit the holding to a few instances, because over 90% of corporations are “closely held.” If the Court sides with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, it will open the Pandora’s box of corporate law. If owners of large, for-profit, nonreligious corporations can use their religious beliefs to shape their employee benefits to the detriment of women, expect arguments for differential pay and promotions for women and men, and new requirements for women’s dress at work from a wide array of religious believers. Why? Because RFRA invites believers to impose their beliefs on other believers in every sphere.

But that is not the only Pandora’s box to be opened if RFRA were extended to business entities. The new Mississippi RFRA—which apparently does empower business entities to assert religious rights against their customers and employees—is playing out while the Court is deliberating, and the Court would do well to pay attention.

The Mississippi One-Month Experience With a RFRA for Businesses

It took only one month, and the bill won’t even be in effect until July 1, but the holy wars erupted in Mississippi once the governor signed this benighted bill into law.

First, businesses that simply want to do business with paying customers, as opposed to those who share their religious beliefs, created a sticker to post on their business entrances: “We don’t discriminate: If you’re buying, we’re selling.” These businesses joined the national chorus against such discrimination that began in Arizona, where the legislature passed but the governor vetoed an even more troubling bill. Arizona prompted the NFL and MLB to join the chorus of: “leave me out of this ugly religious fight; we just want to do business.”

Second, in the category of you can’t make this up, groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and other conservative religious advocates have charged that these businesses pledging not to discriminate are in fact discriminating against religious believers who don’t want to deal with gays. Yet, I am certain that if a conservative Christian who in fact never wants to have anything to do with a gay marriage walks into their stores, they will do business with them. Why? Because these businesses simply don’t want religious wars in their showrooms, stores, or offices. Read the sticker: They want business, whatever you believe.

That is what it means to be an American business owner. We don’t wear our religions on our sleeves in the marketplace, but rather judge products on quality. At least until the RFRAs entered the culture and created religious entitlement that threatens the fabric of our society. This new view is “egocentrism.”

Let’s go to the dictionary for a definition of what it means to be egocentric to gain some insight into how the religious opponents of gay marriage (and persons) could turn anti-discrimination into discrimination against them:

  1. having or regarding the self or the individual as the center of all things . . .
  2. having little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than one’s own; self-centered.

Today’s theo-egocentrics view their religion as the center of all things and believe that everyone else’s interests should accord with their own, meaning that their religious beliefs should control the public square and marketplace. If they don’t? They are victims! Hello, Hobby Lobby.

Add to the businesses’ protests against Mississippi’s RFRA the opposition to it mounting on Mississippi college campuses and even as far away as New York City, and what you have in Mississippi now is an example of why a RFRA, especially one that is extended to businesses, divides society. I think we all know where religious division leads.

Mississippi is the latest example showing that religious believers act in ways that do not necessarily promote the common good. So far, the anti-gay Christians are the only believers touting the Mississippi RFRA as a means to discriminate. Similarly, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are claiming their rights under the federal RFRA to trump their female employees’ rights against religious and gender discrimination. To be sure, the white supremacists are not far behind either.

If the Supreme Court goes out on a limb to make Congress’s RFRA language applicable to those like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, it will bear substantial responsibility for the national unrest that will inevitably follow.

  • Rebecca

    Hypocrites….Hypocrites…Hypocrites….. “Gods always behave like the people who make them”. (Zora Neale Hurston )

  • wheasonjr

    It is strange that people these days that become self employed are given the explicit right to endanger all they have worked for their whole life to be an individual to make better for them and maybe their family. Then it becomes law to not allow them to make their own decisions on their business even though others can choose to use their service or not. Others can choose to work for them or not. Others can choose to be a good employee or not. NONE OF THE OTHERS CAN LOOSE ANYTHING BUT THEIR JOB or ONE OF MANY SHOPPING PLACES. The others will never be held liable for the employers losses. An employer can’t or shouldn’t choose what a employee can do on their own but neither should an employee choose what an employer can do to enhance or detract from his business experience. If he does not do what the general public wants he WILL LOSE AND GO OUT OF BUSINESS but big government supporters would rather that if you choose to be in business you should be enslaved by their beliefs of what they want. Well this has become excepted in government / political circles and look at us now. Dollar is being shunned all over the world, corporate business are leaving the US because we are the most expensive place to do business, we are an import country not an export country as a whole, we now owe have a higher debt as a country than all of the European countries combined. Yes we can be proud of America in the world.

  • pat

    I really like this web site. Thanks. To paraphrase one of my favorites- ‘my neighbor is a Theocratic Fascist, I do not love him!’– Christopher Hitchens, from his excellent book- God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything –It seems every major (ongoing/unresolved) contentious issue is poisoned by religion–a women’s right to choose, contraceptives, climate change, getting high (soooo unnatural unless it’s alcohol, nicotine or prescribed by a Dr. or bungee jumping, rock climbing, white water rafting…dopamine, adrenaline or endorphins anyone(?) for chryst sake) Its a war on other peoples values. Only a secular country can insure religious freedom for all . Good article, Thanks Marci