Acton Institute Powerblog

Conscientious Corporations: Should The Government Crack Down?

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Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are two companies with consciences. It is that sense of morality that has put both those companies before the Supreme Court right now. These companies, in accordance to their understanding of right and wrong, do not want to be forced (by government mandate) to pay for employees’ birth control and abortions.

Should the government have a say in a company’s conscience?

Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream makers, have a conscience. Their mission has three parts: product, economic and social. Their social mission reads:

Our Social Mission compels us to use our Company in innovative ways to make the world a better place. To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.

iSanctuary is an organization that works with human trafficking victims in India and the United States. Their mission statement is,

To advocate for exploited people of the world, to educate the public about human trafficking and its prevention, and to be instrumental in providing survivors the means to be reintegrated as valued members of a community.

Trevor Burrus, in Forbes, says that allowing the government to pick and choose which corporations have “allowable” missions is dangerous. And if it isn’t happening to a company you care about today, it will soon.

Big and intrusive government threatens all types of rights of conscience. When government expands into new, values-laden areas, it is best to realize that while today it may be them, tomorrow it could be you. Those on the left who are opposing Hobby Lobby’s suit as an attempt to undercut women’s rights or as an attempt to let your boss choose your health care, should be thinking instead about the next big government mandate that could affect a business’s right of conscience that they actually care about.

Government intrusion in business is dangerous, and the cases of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are about to set a precedent. Let us hope that the precedent is one that recognizes that all businesses have a conscience, and that is worth protecting. As Burrus says, “Rights of conscience are only protected if we protect all such rights, not just those we share. Conscientious corporations of all types should be championed and respected.”

Read “Of Course Corporations Like Hobby Lobby Have Rights Of Conscience, And You Probably Shop At One” at

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • cminca

    Neither Ben&Jerry”s or iSanctuary”s mission affect the employees health care, nor seeks to take those decision away from the employee.
    Nice try.

    • Hobby Lobby et al. are not taking decisions away from their employees, either. They are not stopping any of their workers from getting birth control, abortifacients, etc. The employers cannot, in good conscience, pay for it.

      If you work for a “green company,” you can drive a Hummer. But don’t ask the company to pay for it.

      A company’s mission affects each and every employee. If you don’t agree with it, work somewhere else. The employer retains the right to continue with their mission.

      • cminca

        Funny that they are so concerned about this now:

        From Huffington Post:

        “Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) employee retirement plan holds $73 million in mutual funds that invest in multiple pharmaceutical companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and abortion-inducing medications.

        The companies Hobby Lobby invests in include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes the Plan B morning-after pill and ParaGard, a copper IUD, as well as Pfizer, the maker of the abortion-inducing drugs Cytotec and Prostin E2. Hobby Lobby’s mutual funds also invest in two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in their health care policies.

        Hobby Lobby’s attorneys argue that the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires most employers to cover contraception in their health plans infringes on the company’s right to exercise religious freedom because the company’s owners believe that emergency contraception and IUDs are actually forms of abortion. Medical studies have debunked this claim.

        Mother Jones reported that all nine of the mutual funds Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan holds include investments that clash with the owners’ religious beliefs about abortion.”

        This is about a democratic president and a Health Care law. This is about another hypocritical Christian Republican. How typical.

      • cminca

        Also–should we allow Quakers and the Amish to pay less taxes because they may be funding military expenditures of which they object? Of course not. Why? Because tax dollars are fungible.

        As are payments to insurance companies.

        • The Amish, as a matter of fact, do not pay or receive Social Security, and (for the most part) do not attend school past the 8th grade. This is because of their religious beliefs. The state does not have a compelling interest to force them to do otherwise. How does the State have a compelling interest in making an employer pay for a non-essential medication/procedure, especially when it violates the beliefs of the employer?

          • cminca

            The Amish do, as a matter of fact, pay income tax which funds the military.

            The employer is not paying for a medication or procedure–he is paying for insurance. And those payments are fungible. Once received, they may go to fund any number of procedures.

            But let’s ask the next question–should a company run by a Christian Scientist be able to not pay for insurance coverage of operations or blood work?

            Should your employer determine whether or not they should fund insurance that may pay for vaccinations?

          • I quote Travis Weber: “Justices wondered whether a
            ruling for Hobby Lobby would lead to corporations objecting on religious
            grounds to providing vaccinations, blood transfusions, and the like. Hobby
            Lobby’s attorney Paul Clement responded that the Court would still rule on
            each case as it arose under the standard set forth in the relevant federal
            statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA, and there is no
            guarantee the religious claim would win. Furthermore, if the “parade of
            horribles” is so likely to occur, where is it? RFRA has been around since 1993.”

          • cminca


            First of all–you’ve not responded to the fact that payments to an insurance company are, like tax dollars, fungible.

            Second–We don’t need any more FRIVOULOUS lawsuits tying up the court. And yes, this lawsuit is frivolous. Hobby Lobby paid for contraception before the ACA, and invests in companies that manufacture abortion drugs. It was only when a democratic president put through the ACA that the Green family developed “morals” about the issue.

            Third–“if the “parade of horribles” is so likely to occur, where is it? RFRA has been around since 1993.” An interesting position since religious conservatives to claim that SSM will lead to “man on dog” marriage, even though it hasn’t occurred since MA legalized SSM in 2004.

            Fourth–Let’s hope Mr. Clement is as successful as he was with DOMA.

      • cminca

        Perhaps you can explain why Hobby Lobby has investments in drug companies that produce abortifacients–as is being reported?
        This has to do with a democratic president and a democratic health care law.

        • Marc Vander Maas

          I suppose it’s possible that the owners of hobby lobby are terrible hypocrites, “as is being reported” – by people who hate what they stand for and want them to lose their case.

          Perhaps you can explain what that has to do with the issue being debated right now, other than it being a fine straw man intended to distract from the weakness of your original argument.

          Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it, right?

          • cminca

            If you read my last sentence instead of jumping in to criticize–you’d understand why it is germane to the issue.

            Hobby Lobby doesn’t have a “religious” issue. They have an issue with the fact we have a democratic president. Who had the temerity to enact a law which was the center piece of his campaign. And no matter what the teaparty or the rich donors or Fox news said–they couldn’t stop it.

            That’s the issue. Hobby Lobby’s actions–their investments–say it loud and clear.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            I apologize for “jumping in”; I was under the impression that when people leave comments on a blog, they are, you know, engaging in a public forum where pretty much anybody can “jump in.”

            You are correct to say that Hobby Lobby has an issue with a Democrat president. They have that issue because back in 2009-2010, that Democrat president, in conjunction with his Democrat allies who controlled the Congress, passed a deeply flawed and remarkably unpopular health care “reform” bill into law, under the authority of which the Administration has crafted regulations requiring employee health insurance plans to provide coverage for contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, with at best only minimal consideration being given to the religious liberties of the people paying for the coverage, many of whom have moral objections to providing those types of coverage. As such, the owners of Hobby Lobby filed suit against the administration under the assumption that the first amendment guarantee of freedom of religion acknowledges that citizens have the right to lead their lives in accord with the dictates of their conscience, not just when they go to a house of worship, but in every sphere of life, including their business activity.

            You say that Hobby Lobby doesn’t have a “religious” issue at stake here. So your assertion is that the owners of Hobby Lobby have just decided to incur tons of legal fees, a significant amount of negative publicity and the unending contempt of folks like you who have decided to make them the subject of your latest two minutes hate, purely out of spite for a Democrat president?

            Not likely.

            But let’s take you seriously, and assume for the sake of argument that Hobby Lobby is secretly investing all of its profits into the development of more efficient abortion techniques and that the whole “Christian business” thing is just a pose for public consumption. And let’s assume that somewhere along the way, the Constitution was amended to say that if citizens are found to be hypocrites, they forfeit the rights guaranteed to them in the constitution, and as such the Hobby Lobby case is thrown out of court. You’d better start digging for dirt on a heck of a lot more companies, because Hobby Lobby is the tip of the iceberg.

          • cminca

            “You say that Hobby Lobby doesn’t have a “religious” issue at stake here. So your assertion is that the owners of Hobby Lobby have just decided to incur tons of legal fees, a significant amount of negative publicity and the unending contempt of folks like you who have decided to make them the subject of your latest two minutes hate, purely out of spite for a Democrat president?

            Not likely.”
            None so blind as those who will not see.
            Enjoy the koolaid.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            Well that’s a compelling argument.

          • cminca

            Momma always said “Don’t argue with a crazy man.”

          • Marc Vander Maas

            I’m perfectly fine with allowing people to read what I wrote, and what you wrote, and to judge for themselves who’s “crazy.”

  • Micha_Elyi

    Businesses should have a conscience. Isn’t that what the eco-wacko segment of the Obama coalition demands?