“Not My Boss’s Business!” (?…)

You had to know it was coming: a backlash against the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby that effectively protected the right of employers to live according to their conscience beyond the walls of their chosen place of worship. Recently, congressional Democrats have introduced a bill that would, if passed into law (and it probably will be, by the executive fiat of President Obama’s weighty pen), inaugurate a law separating business practices from personal convictions. Dubbed the “Not My Boss’s Business!” Act, the bill S-2575 was defeated in the Senate on July 16.

Essentially, the proposed bill aimed to create separate spaces for public life and free exercise of religion – the exact thing our nation’s Bill of Rights was intended to prevent.

But let’s take a look at the logic (or lack thereof) of the proposed “Not My Boss’s Business!” Act (henceforth NMBBA). In the first place, its very creation was a waste of time that could be better spent dealing with other major issues our nation is currently facing. (By the way, there’s a big problem at our southern border at this very moment. Maybe someone should go and check it out.) The highest court in the land has just ruled in favor of free exercise by determining that it is unconstitutional to force anyone – business owner or not – to act in a manner contrary to his or her deeply held moral convictions. The same court would strike down the NMBBA on this precedent the instant a suit was brought against it.

So I can’t help but think that the very effort to introduce this kind of legislation is nothing more than a massive temper tantrum pitched by sore losers who refuse to pack up their toys and go home.

Secondly, the concept lacks basic rational thought. (How naïve of me to expect rational thought from our nation’s leaders.) When a person’s employer facilitates the employee’s lifestyle – directly or indirectly – by providing, or consenting to provide, products and services that make it possible for the employee to engage in that lifestyle, it becomes the employer’s business.[1] The employee is demanding that the employer get involved in his or her business.

Essentially, the employee is saying this: “I want you, my boss, to make these products/services accessible because it’s none of your business.”

Huh??

It’s as if a friend were to say to me: “I want you to lend me the big shovel you keep in your shed.”

I ask “Why? What are you going to use it for?”

“None of your business,” my friend replies.

Oh yes it is. It’s my shovel and my friend is asking to make use of my property. It most certainly is my business.

Then my hypothetical friend asks, “Well, can you at least direct me to a store where I can buy one?”

“Not unless you tell me what you want it for,” I respond.

Then my friend will haul me into court for denying his right to make of my property whatever use he chooses, and for refusing to provide him with alternative means when I have no idea what the end result will be.

A similar argument has been heard in recent years regarding locker inspection in public schools. Opponents of locker inspections, random or otherwise, argue that the school/state has no right to invade students’ property. But it’s not the students’ property at all – it’s the property of the school/state, which is providing the use of the lockers to the students on loan. The school/state therefore has the right to inspect its own property whenever it wants, to ensure that appropriate use is being made of that property.

Now, the counter-argument in favor of NMBBA might run something like this: “If we’re going to talk property rights, then my body is my own property and my employer has no right to interfere with anything I choose to do with it. My body and my life are not the property of my boss.”

Fair enough. Let’s talk about that.

Catholics and evangelical Christians believe that the human body was created by God – we did not create ourselves. Accordingly, men and women owe a return to their Creator for their lives. Essentially, Catholic doctrine holds that we must live in a manner consistent with the designer’s will, which can be discerned through our created nature. Anything that works in opposition to that created nature must not be embraced or encouraged.

A student in one of the high-school ethics courses I taught once asked why the church cares about gay marriage. “Seriously,” she said through her laughter, “why do they care?” She wanted to know why the Catholic Church in particular would take a public stand against something non-Catholics might do. Implicit in her question was a genuine confusion as to why the church wouldn’t just enforce certain behaviors among its own members. Why try to force atheists or Buddhists or pagans or whoever to play by your rules?

Great question. The answer has to do with concepts of human dignity and community. The church has always held that no action is truly private – every decision a person makes affects someone else, perhaps many others. The reason why my private behaviors don’t solely affect me is because I am not an island unto myself – I am a member of the human race living in community. If my private behaviors cause a mental, emotional, or spiritual cancer within myself, then because I am a member of a body, that cancer can’t help but spread. The church has long used the body metaphor, expressed so marvelously by the apostle Paul, to illustrate not only the church as body of Christ but humanity as body, with all members symbiotically connected to one another. If my hand is injured and I can’t use it for a while, it alters the behaviors of my whole body. If I have a headache, my feet can’t just decide to go off on their own and do whatever they please. They’re going to be flat on the sofa because the condition of my head demands it.

Whenever a single person makes a decision to use his or her body for self-oriented gratification, without concern for the ramifications of anyone else’s well-being, the whole body of the human race suffers. This is where our rampant, unbridled individualism is leading us – down a blissful garden path of destruction.

The body image applies to the whole human race because we are all made according to the same nature, the same design. Regardless of religious belief, or the lack thereof, the same rules apply across the board because of that shared nature and the laws of creation according to which the great Designer made us.

So according to church doctrine, it is my business when two men decide to marry each other, or when a woman decides to end the life in her womb, or when my employee wants me to ensure that she is provided with the means to contravene the natural law. It’s everyone’s business – even if not a single one of these people is Catholic or evangelical.

Not my boss’s business? Of course it is. It’s his or her business if you’re asking him or her to facilitate your lifestyle. It’s the business of the whole human race if you’re acting contrary to the natural law.

But then we arrive at Counter-argument #2: “Even if you are allowed to exercise your faith publicly, you are not allowed to discriminate against anyone.” As a Facebook friend of mine put it: “Your rights end where my freedom begins.”

There is so much to say about this, it’s tough to decide where to begin. Firstly, this attitude displays the current cultural definition of freedom: “I’m free to do whatever I want.” Catholic doctrine, however, argues that freedom includes behaving responsibly, both according to our created natures (obligation towards God) and according to the effect our actions will have on others (obligation towards the community of which each individual forms a part). Are we free to commit lawlessness, or are we free to live an authentically human life?

So many people are convinced that living an authentically human life means doing whatever they want. But if we are free to act, we are also free to refrain. St. Paul writes that we must willingly limit our freedom – and our rights – in order to serve the body.[2]

For example: I go out to dinner with a group of friends. I want to order a glass of wine with my dinner. One of my friends in the group is a recovering alcoholic.

Do I have the right to order and consume that glass of wine? Sure. Am I free to do so? Of course. But a choice lies before me: Do I say to myself “I’m free to do whatever I want,” or do I refrain from ordering the wine – essentially surrendering my right and freedom to do so – so that I will not cause distress (and temptation) to my friend?

Secondly, we should define “discrimination.” If I’m an employer who refuses to sign on to an insurance plan that covers contraception and abortifacient drugs, am I discriminating against my employee?

Two examples will illustrate the answer. Say for instance that I own a small business and you, as one of my employees, come to me and say that you need an operation for a brain tumor. Is it covered?

“Yes,” I respond.

“I also broke my leg. Is that covered too?”

“Yes.”

“What about overnight observation for chest pain?”

“Yep.”

“Spinal tap?”

“Yep.”

“Mammogram?”

“Sure is.”

“Ella?”

“No way.”

Now, I’ve clearly not discriminated against you, as a person, in the past. I have provided insurance coverage for essential medical services. It was only when you arrived at a service/product with which my informed conscience genuinely takes issue that I refused. Therefore, it’s clearly the service/product against which I discriminate, not you.

And while we’re at it, we may as well have a serious discussion about whether it is “essential” for you to engage in a lifestyle that includes such products/services. Is it necessary for your continued health of mind and body that you engage in this lifestyle?

If you are a heavy smoker, would it be essential for me to provide all or a portion of your tobacco expenses? While initially this may look like an “apples/oranges” argument, it’s a valid comparison for people of certain faith convictions. A sexually promiscuous lifestyle is defined as equally dangerous – to both body and spirit – by many faith traditions.

Another example: Say for instance that “Bob,” a devout Catholic, is a florist and “Mike,” a gay man, comes into Bob’s shop to buy flowers for a graduation. Bob knows that Mike is gay.

“Sure,” says Bob.

The following week, Mike comes in to purchase a bouquet for a hospitalized friend or loved one. Again, Bob says “Sure.”

Mike then wishes to order a birthday arrangement. “Of course,” Bob says.

Mike then comes in to buy an arrangement for his wedding to his male partner, and at that point Bob refuses.

It would be difficult to argue that Bob is discriminating against Mike as a gay person. If that were the case, Bob would have refused to serve Mike when the latter first entered the shop. But that is not the case. Bob has done business with Mike the entire time, ceasing to do so only when Mike requested that Bob facilitate an event that Bob does not wish to support because said event is contrary to his conscience.

The scary thing about all of this is that this conversation is not even allowed in the public square without accusations that those who dissent from the prevailing cultural paradigm are “haters” and should accordingly be automatically dismissed, if not altogether silenced by punitive measures such as hate-speech legislation. When we begin to characterize opposing views as hate speech, debate and discourse come to an end before they even have a chance to begin.

 

Notes:

[1] I’m not the only one who’s noticed this contradiction. See e.g. http://michellemalkin.com/2014/03/25/contradict-a-palooza-not-my-bosss-business-goal-to-make-it-every-bosss-business/ (accessed 7/17/14).

[2] E.g. Romans 14:1-15; Galatians 5:13; 1 Corinthians 12-13.

 

Further Reading:

“Get Involved: Not My Boss’s Business!” NARAL Pro-Choice America, 2014. http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/get-involved/actions/325-rally-banner.html?autologin=true (accessed 7/17/14).

“Dems Strike Back on Hobby Lobby Case with ‘Not My Boss’s Business’ Act.” ABC News, 7/9/2014, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/07/dems-strike-back-on-hobby-lobby-case-with-not-my-bosss-business-act/ (accessed 7/17/14).

“‘More Respect for Religious Freedom’ Needed After Failed Senate Vote to Curtail It.” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 7/16/2014. http://www.usccb.org/news/2014/14-124.cfm (accessed 7/17/14).

Paul Singer and Valerie Dekimpe, “Senate GOP blocks bill to overturn Hobby Lobby ruling.” USA Today, 7/16/14. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/07/16/senate-hobby-lobby-contraception-ruling/12738193/ (accessed 7/17/14).

 

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