A case of hypocrisy in Hobby Lobby's stance on contraception?

By Scott Alessi| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog

Just a week after Hobby Lobby took its religious freedom case to the Supreme Court, the blogosphere is buzzing with news that the same company that is so adamantly opposed to providing its employees with an insurance plan that would include coverage of certain types of contraception is apparently OK with investing in the companies that make those same products. 

The story, originally broken by Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden, reveals that Hobby Lobby's employee 401(k) plans have more than $73 million in "mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." These include some of the same drugs and contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby owners the Green family told the Supreme Court are a violation of their Christian faith because the Greens believe these contraceptives cause abortions. Since Hobby Lobby makes matching donations to their employee 401(k) plans, they are in essence financially supporting the same contraceptives that they are fighting to exclude from their employees' health insurance plan (and which, as Hobby Lobby's own Supreme Court brief admits, the company had previously covered in their health care plan even before it was required by the government to do so).

Critics were quick to jump on this news, such as Rick Ungar of Forbes, who called it "the most stunning example of hypocrisy in my lifetime" in a scathing commentary. Another Forbes writer, Ryan Ellis, was quick to defend Hobby Lobby, arguing that since employees choose which funds to invest in, their employer cannot be held responsible for those decisions (but apparently employees privately choosing whether or not to use contraception, also presumably without their employer's knowledge, is a different story).

While "hypocrisy" may be too strong a word, I find it hard to believe that Hobby Lobby's owners would not have had any knowledge of the fact that these kinds of companies were included in their 401(k) plan. This is a company that goes to great lengths to ensure that its business practices are in line with the owners' beliefs--they are closed on Sundays, they refuse to sell shot glasses in their stores, and they were willing to fight all the way to the Supreme Court over the right to exclude certain coverage from their company health insurance plan. But they never took the time to look into how their money was being invested?

Some have defended Hobby Lobby by saying that it is impossible to invest in mutual funds without supporting something you are personally or morally opposed to. I would assume, however, that the faithful Green family is at least aware of the fact that there are a wide range of options for investment funds that are screened for morally objectionable companies (Ave Maria Mutual Funds, Epiphany Funds, Aquinas Funds, and First Affirmative Financial Network, just to name a few). I interviewed representatives of several of these organizations for an article a few years back, and all were quick to point out that their investment options are able to completely weed out problematic companies without sacrificing returns. As Mary Brunson of the group Investing for Catholics told me, “Your expected return (compared to non-screened funds) will have a variance that is almost insignificant."

So why would a company like Hobby Lobby, which works so hard to keep its business practices in line with the faith of its owners, not partner with one of these companies to offer a retirement plan that matches the principles of their faith? Maybe it was just a massive oversight on their part, much like not realizing that some of the contraceptives they object to had already been covered in their health plan. Or perhaps the Greens have another reason, but since they have not yet commented on the matter, any other conclusion one might draw is pure speculation.

In the meantime, one thing is for sure: This revelation has certainly cast Hobby Lobby's Supreme Court case in a new light, and it isn't likely to win them many new supporters.