A Teaching Moment from the Reaction to the Hobby Lobby Decision

While I am working on a longer article on my views of the Hobby Lobby decision, which I think will be titled “Three Things the Hobby Lobby Decision Isn’t,” this teaching moment popped up in my Facebook feed recently and I couldn’t let it slip by.

A friend posted a link to what is intended to be satire regarding the consequences coming from the decision in favor of Hobby Lobby in their objections to being compelled to provide types of birth control as part of the health insurance package they offer employees. Here is the opening paragraph.

Citing the newly-established precedent of corporate-religious exemption, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of JCPenney, upholding the company’s right to sacrifice pure-hearted employees in order to assuage the Dread Lord Cthulhu, Bringer of Madness.

While this is satire, it does point out a very real problem in society today, whether you are on the left or the right: a complete misunderstanding of what rights are. This confusion, or in some cases deliberate equivocation, has vast, bad implications for liberty.

In the article, the author is equating the “right” to have your employer provide you with birth control with the right to life.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The idea that someone, in this case an employer, must give you something you want, in this case birth control, is to be held equivalent, morally, to the idea that someone should not be allowed to kill you. Or to rephrase: Not giving you stuff is the same as killing you.

To put this more fundamentally, the principle expressed here as satire, but which is the basis for most if not all progressive and statist policies, is the equating of rights, which are properly understood to be freedoms of action limited only by the requirement that you to refrain from using force to interfere with another’s equal rights, with the values which may be, but are not guaranteed to be, produced by those actions. Once you have morally equated the product, the value, with the means of producing it, the action, you have also effectively separated the effect from the cause and soon you will attempt to enact the effect without the cause (and also enact the cause while seeking to avoid the effect).

For example, once you consider both the freedom to earn a living by voluntarily trade of value for value and the receiving of a good salary equally as rights it is a short step to deciding that the you should receive the good salary even if you do not trade value for value simply because that salary is yours by right. This ignores the simple facts that someone must produce the value before it can be given to you as a “right” and that by giving an unearned value you necessarily have to take that value from someone who earned it. This can hardly be considered respecting everyone’s rights equally.

While this sort of equivocation is bad in and of itself, it has an even more damaging long-term effect. Using the minimum wage issue as an example, even those who feel that a worker has the right to a minimum wage, regardless of their ability to create value for their employer, will believe that there is a limit to what minimum wage can be imposed. They may feel that $15 per hour is good but realize $50 per hour is crazy. (They will also likely feel that there should be a limit at the upper end as well, beyond which no one needs to make that much.) It is this idea that leads to restrictions on actual rights. After all, if there is a “reasonable” limit that can be placed on the “right” to a living wage then it becomes reasonable that there can be a limit on other, real, rights such as free speech. Sure, free speech is a good thing, but it must be limited and controlled to further a “compelling interest” of society. After all, they are to both be considered equally as rights, right?

One thought on “A Teaching Moment from the Reaction to the Hobby Lobby Decision

  1. Patrick Black Post author

    Was interesting to see the same principles being expressed by Ari Armstrong on The Objective Standard.

    “The fundamental reason that no one has a right to a particular good or service (unless he produces it himself or trades a value for it by mutual consent with a party offering it) is that goods and services must be produced by someone or they simply don’t exist. If one person has a “right” to birth control or to any other good, that means he has a “right” to force someone else to provide that good. But a “right” to the productive effort of others is a contradiction in terms.”


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