Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, made headlines last week in a case before the Supreme Court, in which they claimed that the emergency contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act violates their religious beliefs.
Hobby Lobby's argument centered on its refusal to conduct business with companies that undermine their faith. For example, Hobby Lobby does not sell shot glasses. Based on that logic, the company claims, it shouldn't be compelled to pay for insurance that covers contraceptives.
But it turns out that Hobby Lobby does not hold it's retirement plan for employees to the same standard, as Molly Redden, a staff reporter for Mother Jones, discovered in her article "Hobby Lobby's Hypocrisy: The Company's Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers."
In an analysis of documents filed with the Department of Labor, Redden found that Hobby Lobby's 401k retirement plan for employees holds more than $73 million in mutual funds with companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs used in abortions.
"We thought this was important to bring to the political conversation because to Hobby Lobby, the idea that their employee healthcare plans might someday be used for one of their female employees to take emergency contraceptives was so offensive to them that they argued all the way up to the Supreme Court," says Redden. "We thought it was interesting that in their investment portfolios the same indirect support for some of these companies were there."
The documents were filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit.
“It’s not clear to us to what extent they knew, we reached out to Hobby Lobby last week with a pretty detailed summary of some of our findings,” she says, “They never got back to us on whether they’ve changed their policies since these papers were filed in 2012—after they first sued the government.”
According to Redden, if Hobby Lobby wants to divest from these companies they can do so easily. There’s a cottage industry of mutual funds run by religiously minded people who screen companies that religious business owners might find objectionable.
“We do find this inconsistent, but I don’t think this has a lot of bearing on Hobby Lobby’s legal argument,” Redden says. “Because neither Hobby Lobby nor the government asked the Supreme Court to consider the sincerity of their religious beliefs. But we do think it's important to mention for the political conversation—an ordinary person probably wouldn't mind if some very small portion of their employee savings plan was vested with a company who's business they didn't agree with. But Hobby Lobby isn't an ordinary company—when they disagreed with a very small provision of their employee healthcare plan under Obamacare they took it to the Supreme Court.”
But Redden remains skeptical of preserving principles in the world of business.
“When you’re a business owner and you're involved in our markets in lots of complicated ways, inevitably you have ties with businesses whose operations you might not agree with,” Redden says. “The ability to insulate yourself from that is not infinite.”
Additionally, it may reflect poorly on the company itself.
“For a business to selectively pick out items of its operation and demand the ability to run those according to the personal moral beliefs of some of their owners can be very hypocritical,” Redden says.
Hobby Lobby did not return our calls for comment.