Charlotte Hays

Should people with strong religious convictions prepare to violate their beliefs or steer clear of corporate activity in the United States?

Should Hobby Lobby, owned by evangelical Christians who opposed having to pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, have shut down its 575 outlets across the U.S. rather than challenging the federal government’s contraception mandate in court?

Absurd as it sounds, Senator Chuck Schumer seems to be proposing just that. Schumer was one of the backers of a bill, mercifully blocked in the Senate for now, that would have overridden the Supreme Court’s protection of Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom.

Some commentators have summed up what Schumer said after the Hobby Lobby ruling this way: your faith or your company. Unfortunately, that synopsis of what the senator said is neither flip nor off base.

"We wouldn’t tell the owners of Hobby Lobby to convert to a different religion or disobey their religion," the New York Democrat said. "But we don’t say that they have to open up a company. And go sell toys, or hobby kits.” For good measure, Schumer added, “We don’t have any [Hobby Lobby outlets] in New York, so I don’t know exactly what they sell.”

So is this religious liberty in the United States circa 2014, as seen by one of the most prominent members of the political class: you don't have to convert (hey, thanks!) but nor should you count on being able to conduct your businesses in accordance with your consciences? Like the English Catholics who were precluded from going to universities or engaging in certain activities, including serving in Parliament, evangelicals and other devout religious citizens in the U.S. should, as Schumer sees it, not be able to undertake certain economic activities unless they do so with the knowledge that they may have to sell out or compromise on the matter of their religious liberty if the government comes up with some new regulation.

Schumer is a denizen of the secular Northeast where evangelical Christians are in some spots as exotic as crepe paper and other hobby supplies, but one would hope that even sophisticated Manhattanites would recognize that this puts our country on a troubling path, in which the government has the right to make it difficult for the devout to fully participate in our society while observing their religious views.

Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.