Socially-Conscious Businesses And The ‘Dirty 100’
Religion & Liberty Online

Socially-Conscious Businesses And The ‘Dirty 100’

There is a company in the U.S. that those who want businesses to be more socially-conscious should love. The company starts employees out at $15/hour, far higher than the minimum wage. Raises have been given throughout even the harshest of economic downturn. Employees always get Sundays off.

There’s another group that could easily be called socially-conscious. These folks take care of the neediest elderly people, any race or religion, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Despite the business practices and mission of both these groups, they are on the list of the “Dirty 100” – a list created by the National Organization of Women (NOW) to delineate organizations suing the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate. Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and others on the list are considered “dirty” because they do not want their religious freedom impinged upon. Here’s how NOW sees it:

The two plaintiff corporations in Hobby Lobby [and Conestoga Woods] want the “freedom” to deny important health care services to thousands of women who work for them – whether or not they share their bosses’ religious faith or agree with their views on contraception. The plaintiffs, in other words, seek to extend their power as employers to include power over their employees’ medical decision- making. But the case also reflects a power struggle between government and corporate power, twisting the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantee into a club that enables a private business to act in ways that elected governments cannot limit or deny.

Ross Douthat of The New York Times (and Acton University 2014 plenary) offers his take on this strange reasoning:

The entire conflict between religious liberty and cultural liberalism has created an interesting situation in our politics: The political left is expending a remarkable amount of energy trying to fine, vilify and bring to heel organizations — charities, hospitals, schools and mission-infused businesses — whose commitments they might under other circumstances extol.

It is good, say the socially-conscious of our society, to pay far above the standard minimum wage. It is good to offer free health care to the most marginalized in our world. But wait a minute: if those ideals are underpinned by conservative religious ideals and not socially liberal ones, they are suspect. An organization might be serving the common good, and even meeting some standards set by groups like NOW, but because of underlying religious beliefs, such an organization is “dirty.” Religious values, you see, must be confined to worship and prayer, not to boardrooms and business decisions. Douthat again:

If liberals so desire, this division could lead to constant conflict, in which just about every project conservative believers undertake is gradually threatened with regulation enforcing liberal norms. The health coverage offered by religious employers; the activity of religious groups on college campuses; the treatments offered by religious hospitals; the subject matter taught in religious schools … the battlegrounds are legion.

We can spend our time fighting battles over religious liberty, freedom to worship versus freedom of religion, and commitments by good people to reasonable beliefs, or we can find ways to work together for the common good. Assigning the Little Sisters of the Poor to the “Dirty 100” certainly is not a way to work toward the common good.

Read “A Company Liberals Could Love” at The New York Times.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.