This op-ed first appeared in Forbes, 4/01/14
In what just may be the most stunning example of hypocrisy in my lifetime, Mother Jones has uncovered numerous investments on the part of Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund in a wide variety of companies producing abortion and contraception related products.
Hobby Lobby is currently seeking relief from certain contraception benefit requirements of Obamacare in a United States Supreme Court case that promises to be a landmark decision on the rights of corporations and the extension of personal religious protections to corporate entities. In the case of the Hobby Lobby corporation, the company is closely held by the Green family who purport to have strong religious objections to certain types of contraceptive devices and are suing to protect those religious rights.
Remarkably, the contraceptive devices and products that so offend the religious beliefs of this family are manufactured by the very companies in which Hobby Lobby holds a substantial stake via their employee 401(k) plan.
As I suspect many readers will find this as hard to believe and digest as I, the data can be confirmed by reviewing the company’s 2012 Annual Report of Employee Benefit Plan as filed with the Department of Labor.
This according to Mother Jones’ Molly Redden:
Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012 (see above)—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).
Redden additionally notes that, in a brief submitted to the Court in support of Hobby Lobby’s position in the case, the company specifically names contraceptive products such as Plan B, Ella, and IUDs as violating their religious beliefs because they work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus.
According to the Green family, interfering with an already fertilized egg is tantamount to abortion—an act unacceptable to the family and one they refuse to participate in no matter what the Affordable Care Act may require .
However, it turns out that the owners of Hobby Lobby do not appear to have any problem with profiting from the companies that manufacture the very products that so grievously offend their religious principles.
The following is a summation of the companies manufacturing these products that are held by the Hobby Lobby employee retirement plan, as set forth by Ms. Redden’s remarkable reporting:
These companies include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell.
When added up, the nine funds holding the stated investments involve three-quarters of Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) assets.
You may be thinking that it must have been beyond Hobby Lobby’s reasonable abilities to know what companies were being invested in by the mutual funds purchased for the Hobby Lobby 401(k) plans—but I am afraid you would be wrong.
Not only does Hobby Lobby have an obligation to know what their sponsored 401(k) is investing in for the benefit of their employees, it turns out that there are ample opportunities for the retirement fund to invest in mutual funds that are specifically screened to avoid any religiously offensive products.
To avoid supporting companies that manufacture abortion drugs—or products such as alcohol or pornography—religious investors can turn to a cottage industry of mutual funds that screen out stocks that religious people might consider morally objectionable. The Timothy Plan and the Ave Maria Fund, for example, screen for companies that manufacture abortion drugs, support Planned Parenthood, or engage in embryonic stem cell research.
Apparently, Hobby Lobby was either not aware that these options existed (kind of hard to believe for a company willing to take a case to the Supreme Court over their religious beliefs) or simply didn’t care.
For me, this story will forever be filed under the heading of “no good deed goes unpunished”.
While I have disagreed with Hobby Lobby’s legal position in their case before the Supreme Court on a number of levels, I have gone out of my way—both in print and on radio & television—to advise others not to vilify the Greens as individuals just because you might disagree with their position on contraceptive coverage via the Affordable Care Act. I say this because, from what I had previously been able to learn, these were decent people who have long taken appropriate care of its employees by paying in excess of minimum wage and providing all employees with healthcare benefits.
But to now discover that these people are seeking to avoid their obligation under the law to provide their employees with a contraceptive benefit at the same time they are allowing their 401(k) to invest in—and profit from—these very products is, in my view, completely unforgivable.
For those wondering if the family is personally participating in the 401(k) program, I have been unable to get anyone at Hobby Lobby to confirm or deny the same. However, it would be highly unlikely that, as officers of the company, the Greens would not be participating in the 401(k) plan as they are employees of the corporation.
While these revelations will likely have no impact on the outcome of the case pending in the Supreme Court, the sheer and stunning hypocrisy of these people will forever stain any finding by the Court in favor of Hobby Lobby—should this come to pass.
While I may not agree with the legal position Hobby Lobby has taken in their lawsuit, I always stand in admiration of those willing to fight for their constitutional rights when they believe they are being taken.
Hobby Lobby is entitled to no such admiration—only contempt. You simply can’t say that you will give your all in defense of your closely held beliefs when it suits you while seeking to make money in violation of those beliefs. You also cannot pretend you were simply negligent in learning what investments you hold if you are going to hold yourself out as an example of righteousness.
By setting this perfectly awful example, Hobby Lobby’s hypocrisy will do little to aid—and much to deter—others willing to stand up for the Bill of Rights in the future. All they have accomplished is to provide more air to the cynicism that already envelops the nation, cynicism that exists precisely because of entities like Hobby Lobby.