Just What Is a “Faith-Based” Business, Anyway?
When you are looking for a new car, are you looking for dependability? For the best value for your dollar? Maybe for the most fuel efficiency?
No, wait. You’re probably looking for a dealership with your similar religious beliefs, aren’t you?
There have been over 100 lawsuits against the contraception coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act, with a majority of them being filed by so-called “faith-based” businesses. In some cases, with religious educational institutions like Notre Dame, the affiliation makes sense. In others, such as Hobby Lobby, the designation becomes a little more tenuous. After all, does giving millions of dollars in profit to religious groups and organizations really mean that you yourself are a faith-based business? Or does it just mean you’re using your own specific belief system when you are trying to whittle down your profits in order to minimize your tax liability?
It’s a question that came to the forefront with Eden Foods, a self-proclaimed “faith-based” business challenging the contraception mandate. Although the owner filed suit out of religious objection to covering birth control, he admitted to reporter Irin Carmon he really didn’t care one way or the other, he just didn’t want to pay for it. “Because I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.”
Does just being a “religious” owner of a company mean that you get to declare your business to be faith-based? Now, as new lawsuits against the mandate pile up, the correlation of what constitutes a religious business is getting more tenuous. A recent press release announcing yet another suit says it is being filed by a “faith-based car dealership” that says its religious beliefs are being violated by being forced to cover contraception in their health care plans.
“The government should not be able to coerce faith-based, for-profit businesses to violate their religious beliefs,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for Liberty Institute, which is representing the owner. ”This Mandate illegally and unconstitutionally forces our client to violate his sincerely held religious beliefs that form the very foundation for his work as a businessman.”
As a religious-based organization, they are being rather circumspect about their beliefs. A simple perusal of the website, especially the about page and the staff page, doesn’t mention their religion as being a “foundation” of the company at all. Of course, they are closed on Sundays, but that is a Minnesota law more than a company policy.
Still, the owner, Doug Erickson, insists it is a religious company because, when it was failing and he thought about selling them off, he “gave it over to God” and now it makes money. “Erickson believes that his role as President and majority shareholder of the Dealerships is that of a steward of a business given to him by God and that his employees are God’s children who are entrusted to his care. He regards it as his religious duty to operate the Dealerships in conformity with his religious beliefs,” states the complaint. It also notes that he believes his company is a “marketplace ministry,” meaning he evangelizes to his employees and customers — a fact that I’m sure some of his customers would no doubt prefer to be made aware of before coming to shop.
So is that what it takes to be a “faith-based” organization now? In some ways, it appears that these businesses get the best of all worlds: an ability to proselytize to employees and inject their biblical worldview, but without the onus that true ministries have to actually improve the lot of the poor. Instead, they not only get to build their profit for their own comfort, but receive the benefit of tax write offs for giving parts of those profits to true faith-based organizations, who also then do not have to pay taxes because they are religious organizations and non-profits.
Even better, they get to enforce their worldview on employees with “non-mandatory” prayer or “leadership Bible study” classes that the workers are not required to attend, but would no doubt feel greatly pressured if they do not.
Eventually, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue and decide whether freedom of religion extends even to businesses who simply say “I’m a religious entity” in order to avoid portions of federal law that they simply don’t like. Regardless of what that decision is, it’s becoming more and more clear that we are dividing into a country with two distinct sides, with one side believing that not only are we a Christian nation but that it is a moral imperative to live that principle out loud in every avenue, from politics to school to where we eat and apparently now what we drive.
Here’s to hoping that as that occurs, that faction will get better at identifying themselves loudly, so that those of us who don’t wish to have every interaction be a potential conversion can know what businesses to avoid.
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