Update: I Owe Hobby Lobby an Apology… Sort Of

Yesterday I took Hobby Lobby to task for what I saw as blatant corporate hypocrisy.

My goal for The Higher Learning is to always provide our readers with all the facts surrounding a story, even if they might contradict or weaken a claim that we made in the past.

So, I feel that it is my duty to revisit the issue and add some key information that I discovered earlier today.

In my post from yesterday, I criticized Hobby Lobby for including companies that produce contraceptives in their investment portfolios while celebrating the recent Supreme Court ruling which said they couldn’t be forced to provide contraceptives to their employees.

The nine current members of the Supreme Court

This is an oversimplification. First off, while Hobby Lobby provides employees with a number of different options in terms of their 401(k) investments, it’s ultimately up to the individual employees to decide how these investments are allocated.

Some people may have also gotten the impression that these investments are direct investment in the companies creating the contraceptives. They are not, they are part of mutual funds which often include hundreds of companies.

However, since the investment options are ultimately selected by Hobby Lobby’s owners, they should have just omitted the funds that include contraceptive companies, right?

Well it turns out that the pension law surrounding corporate retirement plans make this pretty difficult to do. The law states that owners can’t sacrifice returns or increase risk for the sake of pursuing religious preferences. Because of this, most companies will offer both a socially conscious option and an alternative that is based solely of financial factors, leaving the decision up to the individual employee.

Also, if a company official (like an owner or human resource officer) offers advice to an employee to invest based off of religious ideals and their portfolio loses value, that official can be held personally liable for the losses.

So, Hobby Lobby moving all of their employees’ pensions out of funds containing companies that produce contraceptives is unrealistic under current pension law.

But this brings up a new issue. The pension law forces companies to exclude their religious views from their decisions about retirement investments. The current version of the law was passed back in 2006.

President Bush signs the Pension Protection Act in 2006

That means for six years before the Obamacare lawsuit, the pension law was limiting Hobby Lobby’s religious expression by forcing them to include pension plans which invest in companies who make contraceptives.

But Hobby Lobby never complained about this law. It wasn’t until they were asked to provide contraceptives as part of their health-care plans that they decided their religious rights were being violated.

If Hobby Lobby steps up and demands that the pension law be reformed to allow them to avoid investing in contraceptive companies without facing financial liability, I will applaud them for being genuine and consistent in their religious convictions.

But I don’t see that happening any time soon, so I won’t be holding my breath.

Here’s the Forbes article about pension law which prompted me to write this update.

NOTE: The article above suggests that it is nearly impossible to create a portfolio using only “Christian” companies. I looked up “christian retirement plans” on google and found a number of organizations claiming to do just that.

Obviously, I haven’t looked through all of their various portfolios, but claiming that it’s virtually impossible to create a successful portfolio that avoids contraceptive companies is misleading at best.

2 thoughts on “Update: I Owe Hobby Lobby an Apology… Sort Of”

  1. I have to say, I’m impressed to see this post by you. Solid reporting, this. My criticism of the previous post came out of frustration with what I saw as numerous people’s overly simplified, kneejerk reactions to an emotionally laden decision by the Supreme Court. Numerous people being Facebook friends as well as others I encounter on the web regularly, not just you.

    I consider myself a political moderate. While I was raised in a conservative household, from which my pro-life views originate, I have rejected the anti-gay messages my parents gave me, among other things. Still, I am a spiritual person who has experienced a lot of good from religious organizations in the past. And yes, some bad as well. However, in my eyes the good vastly outweighs the bad, both personally and socially. While there are many people who claim to be Christians but act very unlike them, I still tend to have overall good feelings about churches. Many liberals seem to leap on the bandwagon to criticize churches and people of faith at every possible instance, and I find this frustrating. While hypocrisy is of course a bad thing, in my eyes it is less egregious than some other behaviors and actions. Also, as your reporting discovered, there are frequently more sides to the story than is at first apparent.

  2. Here’s another perspective on this issue. I disapprove of smoking, so I will not directly buy cigarettes for my 26 y/o kid. Or to be more on point, neither would I give a gift card to a nearby store that sells cigarettes, along with an inventory list of what that store sells, so that she could see that cigarettes were on the list. I just don’t want to be directly involved, or encourage that behavior, since I disapprove. But I occasionally give her money for her to use as she pleases, and I shop at stores where cigarettes are sold, and my 401K – who knows if one of those funds is invested in tobacco stock.
    Similarly, I would bet that most vegetarian business owners, who do not provide access to any animal products to their customers or employees, do not go to the Nth degree, so they spend money at other shops where meat or leather is sold, and I’m also sure their 401K investments would not pass a vegetarian purity test either.
    Most folks try to live by their values, ethics and ideals when they make choices about what they will or will not directly do for others in their homes and businesses. And most also do not become overly concerned about the choices that others make using the money they spend or invest elsewhere.
    Even Hobby Lobby, who pays their starting F/T workers nearly double the minimum wage ($14), does so knowing that some employees may use that generous wage to go out and buy the four (out of 20) Plan B / fertilized egg-beating birth control pills of which they disapprove (since they view that fertilized egg, even before it implants in the womb, as the earliest stage of human life). And BTW, they have NO problem with providing the other 16, which simply stop an egg from becoming fertilized.
    So like the rest of us, when they strongly disapprove of something, they simply do not want to actively encourage it by the choices they make regarding what they directly do for others in their own home or their own business.

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