Hobby Lobby Hypocrisy?

from Mother Jones:


When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the company’s owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have stock holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

8 thoughts on “Hobby Lobby Hypocrisy?

  1. Well, maybe they “sincerely believe” that their investment in those mutual funds will not actually go towards producing the drugs at issue. After all, the factual question of whether or not they do in fact do so is irrelevant right? We just have to take it that, qua religious beliefs, their beliefs are immune to such inquiries. /sarcasm

  2. I share some of what I take to be Anne and Katy’s concerns about the ruling. But I don’t think cries of hypocrisy help, here, but rather distract from the serious issues. First, you can’t hold a simple S&P 500 index fund without holding several big pharma companies. Moreover, you might even think that they develop a lot of important drugs, and that contributing to their R&D is not straightforwardly wrong. Second, if they sincerely believe as Katy suggests, wouldn’t their belief be true? Unless, of course, they got their shares in an IPO. I could be wrong, but I imagine Pfizer has been funding R&D and production out of revenues rather than equity offerings for quite a while now. Who owns how many stocks at what valuation has virtually nothing to do with this. So sure, complain about Hobby Lobby’s beliefs and compensation practices (and don’t support them with your dollars, if you don’t support their practices), and complain about the SCOTUS ruling; and especially complain about the laws that support the ruling. But I don’t think the investment hypocrisy charge is a very telling one; it’s rather a cheap shot .

    I’ll add only that even if there is something to the hypocrisy charge, how many of us have gone out of our way to make sure that, say, our retirement accounts with Fidelity index funds or whatever are invested only in companies that don’t make guns or bombs, or don’t extract fossil fuels or burn excessive amounts of them, or don’t foreclose on homeowners without due process, or don’t make gendered toys, or don’t make cigarettes, or don’t deny coverage for legitimate treatments, or . . . ? I don’t, and maybe that’s a moral failing. But if the hypocrisy charge has bite, it’s not one that many of us can avoid (at least those of us fortunate enough to have investable funds or even checking accounts). So perhaps it’s more appropriate to focus our attention on the laws that underwrite such rulings and the details of the ruling itself.

  3. Should have added to the final sentence of my comment: “precisely as Anne does in the posting just prior to this one.”

  4. RJ: While I doubt any of us have checked for the moral consistency of all our investments, we also don’t launch lawsuits that go to the Supreme Court for the right to…

    So their hypocrisy matters more than perhaps ours.

  5. RJ, your comment suggests to me that there are several different reasons why one might level the hypocrisy charge. I wish I had seen this before I posted the piece. One might be close to name calling, a sort of ‘well, you do it too.’ I don’t think that’s worth a lot of ink. But a second is to raise some questions about what is going on with these people who cite their religiously-grounded belief that a fertilized egg is a human being in order to change US law. Here consistency seems to be a major issue. It seems to me akin to wanting others to be policed, but not oneself. And for me at least it raises a question about right wing obstructionism, failure to respect women’s choices, failure to respect a separation of church and state, etc.

    It is possible, I think, to avoid firms with really bad products when one invests. Investment firms will typically have options such as ‘green firms,’ etc.

  6. I guess my point was that even if it’s possible to avoid such investments, it’s not at all ordinary, and so not something that speaks much to intentions and motives. Maybe if they don’t address the matter after having their attention called to it, that would be more significant in my mind, especially given Rachel’s comment and the power of appearances in these matters. (Of course, I’m happy for them to be invested in such things, so I’m not going to push for them to change!) But this is hard. Consider, for example, Vanguard’s FTSE Social Index Fund, which might be available to some 401(k) investors:


    The top ten holdings (22% of assets) are dominated by big pharmaceuticals and big banks. So you go for a Social Index Fund to be responsible, but without giving a lot of thought to the matter, and you’re still stuck with loads of the very companies making *objectionable* contraceptives and abortion equipment and foreclosing improperly on disadvantaged homeowners. As opposed to the S&P 500 top ten (18% of assets), you avoid ExxonMobile and Chevron (fossil fuels) and GE (because of nuclear?), but you’re still in a lot of objectionable stuff. I guess the solution is to draft your own principles and do the homework to invest company by company, but that’s a pretty inefficient process, even for a big corporation.

    Rachel: fair point on the comparative claim, though I’m still not sure it matters much. Anne: I was taking it to be more or less the “you, too” taunt, suggesting that they can’t really be sincere in their motives if they are not consistent across different domains of their business. I think that would be unhelpful, and the claim about motives is difficult to assess. The second sort of issues is much more important and certainly worth discussing; thanks for clarifying that this is what was really underlying your posting. I think that all the questions you mention – right wing obstructionism, failure to respect women’s choices, failure to respect a separation of church and state – are critical to the case. I’m still not sure that they are enhanced by the investment question – and by not sure I really mean ‘unsure’ and not a euphemism for ‘I’m really sure that they are not’. Possibly they are enhanced: I feel a bit of intuitive pull in that direction, but when I try to articulate it I can’t manage to do so. But I won’t pursue the matter now, since I think we can agree that they were all already there prominently without regard to the investments. Hashing out the effect of the investments isn’t going to change that more fundamental and important (and politically actionable) fact which we clearly agree on.

    This has made me think more about what my own retirement funds are invested in, so I’m glad you posted and prompted me to reflect.

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