J. Herbert Nelson Reacts to the Hobby Lobby Decision

Article originally featured in the Office of Public Witness blog.

See also: A Travesty and Shame on the Nation: J. Herbert Nelson on Harris v. Quinn.

Hobby-Lobby-DuskThe Reverend J. Herbert Nelson this week expressed dismay at the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The Presbyterian Church spoke to the question of access to contraception when the 205th General Assembly (1993) called on Congress to provide funding that ensures access to contraception, at no cost, to any person who needs it. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we affirm that each person is created in God’s image, and that each woman is endowed with God-given moral capacity and authority to determine whether or not to become pregnant. Denying any woman the right to exercise that moral agency is wrong. It is because of our faith that we view access to contraception, and all forms of health care, as a human right.

Further, in today’s workplace, “the 220th General Assembly (2012) encourages the church’s support for policies that strengthen families, support children’s development, provide comfort to the elderly, and help to insulate decisions about family formation and child-bearing from undue economic stress.” (Minutes, p. 246,Recommendation 3.b., italics added).


It is because of our faith that we view access to contraception, and all forms of health care, as a human right.

Presbyterians further profess that God Alone is Lord of Conscience and that individuals must make decisions in personal and public life that are consistent with their own values, without seeking to coerce others. We believe that the establishment clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seeks to protect religious institutions from government infringement, and we are grateful for this protection. But Hobby Lobby is not a religious institution. It is a closely held corporation whose overriding objective is profit, not religious expression or evangelism.

In response to the ruling, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, PC(USA) Director for Public Witness, said:

We are very concerned by the corporatization of the federal government, and we question the Supreme Court’s extension of personhood and freedom of religion to for-profit corporations. This move to treat corporations as people is a troubling trend in U.S. public life. We need to remember that it is people, not things, who have moral agency.

Corporation CarouselWhen discussing religious liberty in this case, we must also remember that it is the religious liberty of the workers that is infringed by the employer’s ability to express a religious view through its corporate policies. Indeed, because we view access to health care as a human right, both workers’ religious liberty and their human rights are in jeopardy. At its most extreme manifestation, an employer imposing religious views on unwilling employees begins down the path to slavery. The employees of Hobby Lobby are not mere extensions of its owners, but are endowed with their own moral agency and should not be imposed upon by the beliefs of their employer.

In light of yesterday’s SCOTUS decision in the Hobby Lobby case, I urge Congress to take steps to make contraception available to all women and men, whether through federal appropriations, a re-classification of contraception as a prescription drug, or through private insurance requirements, such as the special “accommodation” for religious institutions with genuine objections based on conviction. Indeed, however Congress accomplishes this remedy, it is essential that all women and men have access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

And while Congress must act to remedy this grave injustice perpetrated by our Supreme Court, it is incumbent upon all of us to challenge the shift in our society that endows corporations with rights that ought to be reserved for people. We could do so much better, if only we would create the political will.


JHNAUTHOR BIOs: The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, is the Director for Public Witness at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. Author Leslie Woods is the Office of Public Witness’ Associate for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues.

Click here to read Rev. J. Herbert Nelson’s response to the Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision on labor organization.

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