How NOT to cover the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling in the Hobby Lobby case expected as soon as today, Forbes offers a perfect example of how not to cover the decision.

And yes, I realize it’s more than the Hobby Lobby case (thank you, tmatt).

For anyone not familiar with the background or what’s at stake, ReligionLink provided this informative primer back in March that’s still relevant.

As Religion News Service puts it:

Technically,  it’s Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a showdown over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate. The core legal question is whether a private company can have religious rights.

But to the general public, this is seen as a showdown between employers — the evangelical Green family behind Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite Hahn family that owns the Conestoga cabinet company — and the employees’ personal reproductive choices under their insurance.

But back to Forbes. 

Here’s the headline atop that organization’s one-sided account:

What To Expect If Hobby Lobby Wins Religious Freedom Case

Who does Forbes quote? Three sources — all critics of Hobby Lobby’s position. Apparently, all the “experts” are concerned:

But there’s far more at stake than the rights of women workers to contraception access, according to experts who’ve studied this case and its precedents.

“If the Supreme Court gives corporations rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it could be a sea change,” said Marci Hamilton, constitutional law expert and author of newly released book God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty.

“Hobby Lobby is discriminating against employees who don’t share their faith. This is another step towards filling the workplace with coreligionists.”

Greg Scott is vice president of media communications for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Conestoga Wood Specialties. His response to the Forbes story, shared with GetReligion:

When all of the sources represent the furthest extreme on one side of an issue, you’re not likely to get anything but the hysteria represented by that piece. The sources are uniformly hostile to the constitutionally protected free exercise of faith and completely distort what constitutes unlawful discrimination. The case has nothing to do with whether anyone has “access” to potentially abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.

Planned Parenthood, a chief opponent of the Hahn and Green families’ religious freedom, itself claims that 99 percent of women have used these products. So access to these drugs is self-evidently not a problem. The problem is the mandate, which forces these family businesses to subsidize objectionable drugs and treatments under the threat of massive fines enforced by the IRS. The only “access” at stake in this case is the families’ access to their religious freedom to opt out of participating in someone else’s decision to purchase embryo-destroying drugs.

There you have it: another side of the story. Too bad Forbes didn’t choose to pursue it.

If the ruling happens this morning, follow the comments section on this post for updates. And by all means, share any links to particularly excellent or egregious news coverage.


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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Bobby Ross Jr.

    Interesting analysis related in part to the RNS story to which I linked …

  • helen

    Considering that Hobby Lobby has supported/is willing to support 16 of the 20 pregnancy prevention methods, (and the two cheapest aren’t even mentioned by them or the HHS), allowing them to omit the four would seem very reasonable.
    They are not saying a person in their employ can’t use the four, either, just that they don’t want to pay for them.

    Unless the HHS’s real motive is to demand “free” abortions further on down the line (which wouldn’t surprise me) I think they could concede Hobby Lobby’s position to any company with the same argument.

    Forbes really surprised me; I gave them too much credit for objectivity!

  • fredx2

    Bear with me. I have a serious question for reporters at the end.

    I laugh whenever I see “Constitutional Law Expert” Marci Hamilton cited as if she were a serious person.

    She is a devout anti-religion person. That is about all you can say for her.

    Her first book, “God and the Gavel”, was so bad from a legal and constitutional standpoint, that a real constitutional law expert, Douglas Laycock (who sometimes takes liberal stances, sometimes conservative ones, but is highly regarded by most serious law professors) took the unusual step of publishing a scathing review of her book that ended this way:

    “Occasional errors are inevitable, but here the extraordinary number of errors, often with reference to famous cases and basic doctrines, implies a reckless disregard for truth. I document these errors for a reason. No one should cite this book. No one should rely on it for any purpose …

    Its many footnotes offer the patina of scholarship, but there is no substance of scholarship. This book is unworthy of the Cambridge University Press and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.”

    There is a great difference between an ACTIVIST professor and a REAL professor.

    Now – the question for reporters is this – is it even ethical to use an ACTIVIST professor as an “expert”? Or should the reporter do some due diligence and find a REAL professor?

    If the reporter uses an activist professor as if they were an unbiased expert, for intents and purposes, the reporter is just lying to us. In the Forbes case, she cites three well worn anti-religion people – Barry Lynn, who shows up as the anti-religion voice on every TV show, Marci Hamilton, and someone from “Catholics for free choice” which is obviously an anti-catholic organization.

    The Reporter completely fails the integrity test in this case.

    • n_coast

      Maybe you come on a little strong here. A professor is someone who has the academic rank regardless of her qualifications or biases. (Ironically, the President is often awarded professorial rank by journalists when he was actually a lecturer at the University of Chicago.)

      From Wikipedia, “The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Esq. ,(born 1948) has been the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State since 1992.[1] He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and a prominent leader of the religious left in the United States.

      • Julia B

        Additional bit of information: the President did not teach the major Constitutional Law course that all students must take. He taught specialty elective courses on the civil rights aspects of the law. He is not a Constitutional Law professor. At most schools, he would have been considered a part-time adjunct professor or lecturer. At U of IL we had lawyers from the community run the elective Litigation course and judge the Moot Court arguments where their practical experience was very valuable. Same for the guys from the Business School who taught the Accounting for Lawyers and Statistics for Lawyers courses. Valuable but not law professors.

        • n_coast

          More bluntly, he was teaching staff with a day job. He was not tenured and had none of the non-teaching duties of a faculty member.

  • boinkie

    the claim that 99 percent of women use prescription contraceptives is a bit off the mark. The contraceptive pill is used for painful periods, for irregular and heavy periods, to shrink ovarian cysts, etc. Which is why virgins and nuns are sometimes put on the pill…

  • Claire Rebecca

    I read one of the other articles written by Ms. O’Connor (author of the Forbes article) on the Hobby Lobby case and it also began with a picture of the one-month birth control pill. I wanted to point that out since 1) it’s interesting that it was in both articles and 2) the Hobby Lobby company doesn’t object to providing that particular method of birth control.

  • Julia B

    I thought this ABC coverage of the Hobby Lobby win was very good and covered the broad gamet of opinions. The video portion is also really even-handed.