Hobby Lobby

courtesy photo

When Tara Fincher swiped her card at the checkout counter of her local Hobby Lobby store March 31, she joined a group of self-proclaimed activists taking a stand in support of the mega-craft chain’s religious principles.  

Fincher, like many of the other customers, was participating in the second Hobby Lobby Day organized in Arkansas. These events have become advocates’ holidays around the state--a chance for like-minded Arkansans to support a cause they believe in.

In this case, Fincher and the other shoppers were giving their answer to a question that’s had most of the nation baffled: Can a corporation have religion?

Two years ago, the owners of Hobby Lobby headed to the courts, arguing that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. If Hobby Lobby wins its case, the company would no longer be required to provide insurance coverage for four types of women’s contraceptives that the family owners believe cause abortions.

“I believe that any business reserves the right to refuse anything based on their beliefs,” Fincher said.

While Fincher is certainly not alone in her opinion, she does hit on one of the problems of this case.

Those who oppose Hobby Lobby’s argument point out that the line between what religion can and can’t be used to legitimize is very hard to establish.

“Who knows what else could come of allowing Hobby Lobby to choose what they can provide for their employees,” asked Katy Hollis, a junior at the UofA. “What’s the difference between that and letting them discriminate in who they hire, or even whom they provide services to?”

Hollis echoes some of the questions asked by Supreme Court justices last month in their deliberation on the case, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. A decision is expected by June.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hobby Lobby win,” said Steve Sheppard, a law professor at the UofA.

The legal issues surrounding this case are complex, but there’s no ignoring the fact that Hobby Lobby is something of a positive publicity generating machine, Sheppard said.

The story of the popular craft chain reads a bit like an advertisement for the American Dream. The company began in founder David Green’s garage, and over the course of 44 years, it has grown to include 556 store locations across the U.S.

Despite Hobby Lobby’s rampant success as a business, Green has opted to maintain a tight hold on the company, keeping it private and family owned. There are no franchises and no stocks.

The Greens have also chosen to operate Hobby Lobby in a manner consistent with their religious principles. They are Evangelical Christians, which means that they close their stores every Sunday and, according to the business’ manifesto, uphold company policies that “build character, strengthen individuals and nurture families.” For their 1,300 employees, these policies often include hourly wages that pay far above the national average.

Emily Prater has worked at the Hobby Lobby in Rogers, Ark., for less than three years. In that time, she said her hourly wage has almost doubled. Making the leap from a part-time to a full-time position, Prater is now among the employees who will be affected by the outcome of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. Still, she said she wasn’t worried.

“I don’t care if they pay for those contraceptives or not,” she said. “It’s a part of people’s personal lives that shouldn’t be exposed.”

Though many express an apathetic approach to the debate, there may be cause for Arkansans to take a more serious interest. Sheppard warned that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could spark a “litigious rebellion.”

“Arkansas is the home of some very important businesses,” he said, referring to Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart and J.B. Hunt, among others. “These are players on the global stage, and if Hobby Lobby wins, these major corporations have the foundation for challenging any law they don’t like.”

If Hobby Lobby loses, it will change almost nothing, Sheppard said. If Hobby Lobby wins, it will affect a lot of local businesses.

“And that effect might be for good or for ill,” Sheppard said. “It’s too early to tell.”

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