The Obama administration and several courts have effectively said that religious freedom doesn’t apply to money-makers — at least, not when it comes to purchasing abortion-inducing drugs for your employees.
In a recent piece for USA Today, Mark Rienzi, author of a marvelous paper on the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, argues that drawing the line on “for-profit” vs. “non-profit” is a mistake for anyone who believes “conscience” belongs in business.
Offering a brief summary of the more recent demonstrations of “conscience” among money-makers, Rienzi invites us to imagine a world where values and business are separated:
We regularly encounter businesses making decisions of conscience. Chipotle recently decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts’ policy on openly gay scoutmasters. It was “the right thing to do,” Chipotle said.
Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters.
You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them. Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living. Does anyone really want a society filled with organizations that can only focus on profits and are barred from thinking of the greater good?
Yet the persecution we see is quite selective. Starbucks and Chipotle aren’t under scrutiny (yet), so what gives?
For many, their conscience is informed by religious views about activities they can or cannot participate in. Some Jewish store owners cannot sell leavened bread at certain times of the year. Some Muslim truck drivers cannot transport alcohol. Some Catholic prison workers cannot participate in executions.
If religious freedom means anything, it means that these people — just like Chipotle, Starbucks and everyone else in our society — are allowed to earn a living and run a business according to their values. In a tolerant society, we should just accept that our neighbors will have different beliefs, and that government-enforced conformity is rarely the best answer to this diversity.
Indeed, for as hip and trendy as it is to be “socially conscious” in business these days, we sure exhibit a peculiar apathy toward those whose consciences are informed by gods other than those of environmentalism, progressivism, and sexual revolution. Particular beliefs aside, anyone who holds to the flimsy notion that this could never happen to that — that Starbucks could never become the next Hobby Lobby — would do well to recognize that not only does power tend to corrupt, but such corruption tends to trickle around accordingly.
If we’re going to tell businesses they can either be for God or for profit, but not both, we should be prepared to accept the result: bars on the windows of economic martyrs and dollar signs everywhere else.