Many Are Missing the Point of Today’s Hobby Lobby Decision

heart_pills_whiteToday the US Supreme Court ruled in the controversial “Hobby Lobby Case” that the government has no authority to require closely-held companies to provide, at their expense, free birth control to women. We see it as a small victory for freedom.

From this ruling, various political movements on either side of the issue have found a victory or a rallying call. Pro-life groups see it as a ruling in their favor. Liberal women’s groups professing a conservative “war on women” have used it as a call to vote in November’s elections or donate money.

As we said a little over 2 years ago, the idea of a “right to birth control” means that people have a right to purchase or a right to use birth control. It does NOT mean that someone else has to pay for it so you can have it for free.

The Hobby Lobby case was about that very question. Should the owners of Hobby Lobby have to pay for employees to have birth control coverage that included some methods of birth control that the company’s owners found to be against their religious beliefs?

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) mandates that employer-provided health insurance must cover a variety of medical services. For example, for birth control alone, the law required employers who pay for employee coverage to cover “at no cost” some 20 different methods of birth control. Hobby Lobby’s owners objected to 4 such methods. (More on “at no cost” in a moment.)

And that is where the progressives charge in. Their righteous indignation and vitriol at the Hobby Lobby ruling is only starting:

Wendy Davis, Democrat candidate for the Texas governor’s seat: “Today’s disappointing decision to restrict access to birth control puts employers between women and their doctors.”

Lena Dunham and Sandra Fluke:

Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissenting opinion used terms like “radical,” “havoc,” “startling breadth,” and “minefield,” perhaps displaying her own limited intellectual capacity to grasp the concepts of freedom and individual responsibility.

All invoke an image of a greedy male cigar-clad fat cat sitting in the corner of the exam room of his helpless female employee’s doctor visit in order to snatch away her birth control pills. If only he would just let her have them!

People like Wendy Davis, Sandra Fluke, and Lena Dunham don’t want you to realize that many forms of birth control can be obtained inexpensively–with some methods, depending on circumstances, being paid for completely by private foundations. US News & World Report put together this survey the last time the issue bubbled over in 2012. Liberal progressives want you to think that the only way a woman can get birth control is for the government to require someone else to give it to them for free.

This begs the question, is this issue truly about birth control, or is it about power? Suppose Hobby Lobby were to increase the paychecks of their employees by an amount equal to what the average birth control method would cost. The employee would then be free to purchase said birth control or use the money for something that was more important to him or her. (Yes, that’s right, men would get the increase too.) But we doubt that would be satisfactory to the Sandra Flukes of the world.

To us this seems to be as anti-freedom as it gets. Convincing women that they need to be dependent on someone else to give them free stuff that is available in the marketplace should be offensive.

What of the Hobby Lobby employee? There is no law or other government edict or executive order or action handed down by a pen and a phone that requires a female (or male!) employee to continue working at Hobby Lobby. If coverage of the 4 types of birth control that Hobby Lobby doesn’t want to cover is important to those individuals, they are free to seek employment with another company that does provide health insurance covering such services.

Hobby Lobby is also accountable to its customers. If they feel Hobby Lobby is treating its workforce unfairly, they are free to send their comments to the company or even shop elsewhere if they want to send a stronger message. Decisions have consequences, and Hobby Lobby is not immune from the consequences of its decisions.

We don’t know what the outcome will be for Hobby Lobby. Will its employees and customers support the bold decision to challenge the government’s health law? Will employees quit en masse to work for another company? Will customers flock to other craft supply stores?

Because people are free to interact (lawfully of course) with their employers and stores in a manner they see fit, we don’t know the exact consequence for Hobby Lobby of today’s Supreme Court action. But we do know one thing: Government can’t guarantee free birth control without controlling people. They can’t promise free stuff with one hand without taking the other and using it to force someone else to make it or to pay for it and give it away. The Sandra Flukes of the world would have us think that the Affordable Care Act provides free birth control and that this is something that must be fought for in order to maintain. But is it really free?

The Daily Caller reported in April that Morgan Stanley surveyed health insurance issuers earlier this year about the cost increases of health insurance policies. Not surprisingly, it is one of the largest annual price spikes (of nearly four times the previous annual growth rate) in recent years as the regulatory impact of Obamacare has become known to insurers. Before Obamacare was implemented, women using birth control pills likely had a co-pay or co-insurance fee.

When this charge disappeared, liberal progressives gleefully pointed out this fact, hoped for votes and campaign contributions, and decried a Republican “war on women” at any attempt to limit or change the arrangement. But birth control wasn’t free before Obamacare, and the unfortunate news is that despite the best-laid plans of progressives, birth control pills are still not free. As the super-sized annual insurance premium increases show, instead of a co-pay, now you just have to pay for birth control pills up front in your annual policy premium whether you use them or not.

If you think the 4 forms of birth control that Hobby Lobby objects to are a key concern, then write the company and vow to do all of your craft supply shopping elsewhere (and follow through! Alternatively, you could give up your crafting habit and donate these funds to one of the organizations that provides free birth control to women). Conversely, if you strongly agree that Hobby Lobby is doing the right thing, then let them know that too and do all your craft supply shopping there. If the issue is not of high importance to you, then shop at whichever craft supply store offers the best coupons or weekly ad deals. This is the essence of freedom, and that is a beautiful thing.

Summer Reading Giveaway!

ripples-fadeWelcome to Freedom Forge Press’s stop on the Summer Reading Giveaway!

As the 4th of July approaches, we take a moment to reflect on why we are here and share a blog post from 2012 on that very subject.

Many things in life are seldom missed until they’re taken away. So it is with individual liberties.  When I graduated from high school, I left home to join the US Army. As any veteran or currently serving member knows, basic training is designed to break down individuals and rebuild them into components of a unit.  My experience was no different.  Something as simple as calling home to talk to mom and dad was a luxury.  Internet, email, favorite TV shows, the simple freedom to leave and go someplace else (that wasn’t on the drill sergeant’s agenda), even drinking a soda were all things I never considered to be “freedoms” until they were taken away on the day I put on Army green.

Basic training spanned over the 4th of July holiday for me.  I can remember our company being given a special “treat” on the day America celebrated her independence.  We marched onto a field, in hot uniforms, and were given the chance to watch an evening fireworks display—seated on the ground in straight lines of course.  The display went on for about a half hour.  As I watched the brilliant colors explode across the night sky and reflect on the faces of my fellow soldiers, I realized for the first day in weeks, we weren’t being yelled at, weren’t doing pushups, and weren’t given detailed instructions on what exactly we were supposed to do.  We just sat, enjoyed the moment, and relished in freedom before returning to the remaining weeks of our training.

I and many others willingly gave up these basic freedoms in order to serve as part of a military force that swears, above all else, to protect and defend the US Constitution.  We swear to obey all lawfully issued orders—not allegiance to a single person.  We bear the burden of service so that others would not have to bear it.  I’ve since returned to civilian life, and I see too often that people are willing to trade away their individual freedoms in exchange for the fleeting stability of a government program or a promise of benefits or for “the greater good.”

On Independence Day, think for a moment on what it means to be free.  Does the picture you form in your mind include the government telling you what size soda you can buy and sell? Does it include bureaucrats banning lemonade stands and bake sales?  Does it include the government telling parents what they can and can’t put into a lunch their child takes to school?  Does it include a government that tells people who they can and can’t marry or what people can and can’t do with their own bodies?  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are said to be rights that are inalienable to us.  They can’t be taken away, nor can the government “grant” them to us.  It is government’s fundamental job to protect these rights and not destroy them while pursuing a self-proclaimed and self-serving notion of a “greater good.”

We should not allow the government to freely intrude on our freedoms.  We must demand and hold elected officials accountable for the choices they make on our behalf and how they carry the torch of freedom—whether they hold it high and let it shine brightly or whether they try to dim its eternal flame.  Mankind was meant to be free.  That’s why I founded Freedom Forge Press—to find people’s stories of freedom, their essays and their cautionary tales and showcase them for all to see and so that the torch of freedom is able to shine ever brightly.

What do you associate with freedom? Leave a comment below, and have a great Fourth of July!

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Is Virginia’s Recent Lyft and Uber Ban An Example of Keeping It All in the Family for Governor Terry McAuliffe?

Did the McAuliffe Administration Ban Uber and Lyft from Operating in Virginia as a Favor to the Cousin of the Governor’s Father-in-Law?

Last Friday (6/6/14), Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles fired the latest salvo in the ongoing battle of corrupt governments and tech start-up firms Uber and Lyft, which use technology to match drivers and riders. Virginia’s DMV issued a cease and desist order to the companies because they do not have the appropriate business model per state law. This action follows civil penalties the DMV assessed in April: $26,000 for Uber and $9,000 for Lyft.

We are always suspicious when a government shows a sudden and unexplained interest in an issue—much like our suspicion of New York City mayor Bill De Blasio’s immediate fixation upon taking office with banning the city’s horse drawn carriages despite it being a rather distant issue in his campaign. Likewise, we became very interested when one of Virginia’s executive agencies, under the administrative direction of Governor Terry McAuliffe, showed a sudden and intense interest with Uber and Lyft.

We have to build the case from several scraps of information, so bear with us.

Virginia’s DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb returned to head the DMV in 2010 following an appointment from Virginia’s previous governor, Bob McDonnell. He remains in office now under the McAuliffe administration. Lyft and Uber have had a presence in the Northern Virginia area outside of DC since 2011—without any publicly reported issues from the DMV until this year. So the timing is certainly curious. Why the focused attention on these two companies? Why now? Why with so many other issues in the Commonwealth, from passing a budget to fixing roads, is Lyft and Uber worthy of attention?

By our reckoning, only one thing has changed since the DMV Commissioner returned to office in 2010. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe assumed office in January 2014 after winning a plurality of votes in Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial election to succeed Bob McDonnell.

Does the governor have an axe to grind against Lyft and Uber? Maybe not a personal one, but organized taxicab companies sure do. They view these start-ups as unregulated and not playing on a level playing field. And that’s where things start to get interesting.

The Taxicab Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) is a trade group representing 1,100 member companies with 100,000 passenger vehicles. This association, like any “good” trade group, sends letters to elected officials asking for rules and laws that favor their members—or for governments to simply ensure that those rules and laws are applied to all competitors in the marketplace “equally”—to ensure “fairness” you see. To translate into basic English, this group wants to protect the status quo, with all the rules, regulations, and barriers to entry for new competitors, and political gift giving intact. If you’re a new business like Lyft or Uber, and you are a threat to the status quo, or you don’t give your fair share of political tribute to elected officials, then woe be unto you.

Following the money was the logical starting point.

Paul Mears Donation VPAPAccording to the Virginia Public Access Project, Virginia’s taxi and limousine transportation industry was the fifth largest provider of campaign cash in the 2013 Virginia election cycle. We drilled down to statewide campaign donations, and found that the largest individual donor from this industry group was Paul S. Mears, Jr., of Orlando, Florida. His political contribution of $5,000 to the McAuliffe campaign was more than double the second-largest individual donation recorded from the taxi and limousine industry. Paul Mears III also showed up on the list, contributing an additional $1,000 to the McAuliffe campaign.

Paul Mears, Jr. operates Orlando-based Mears Transportation Group. According to the company’s website, Mears offers luxury van, sedan, SUV, and shuttle services in 51 airports and metropolitan areas, including Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport in Virginia.

Interesting stuff indeed, but would McAuliffe, following the nationally-splashed ethics headlines of the previous governor’s administration, engage in political chicanery for a measly $6,000? If he would, it certainly would be a fantastic return on investment for the Mears family.

But perhaps there’s a force even stronger than money and the political influence it can buy.

Further digging into the bowels of the Internets turned up an Orlando Sentinel article from 1998 describing business deals between Terry McAuliffe and father-in-law Richard Swann.

Of McAuliffe, the article quoted Eileen Miller, then the executive director of Public Campaign, which seeks to reform campaign fund raising (emphasis is ours):

“He’s always been a mover and shaker when it comes to the money trees,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of a nonprofit group, Public Campaign, which advocates reform of campaign fund- raising. “It’s inevitable he would get caught with his hand near the cookie jar. McAuliffe is playing fast and loose on the edges of what’s ethical.” 

A separate Orlando Sentinel article on Richard Swann had this to say:

Whispers of political cronyism seem to dog Swann whatever he does. A prominent Orlando lawyer and full-time chairman of American Pioneer, Swann has been mentioned in federal investigations of prominent Democrats at both the state and national levels.

Swann is comfortable in gray areas. A teetotaler at home among clinking cocktail glasses, Swann is not addicted to politics, friends say. Rather, his political strength comes from an ability to mix politics with business to forge a powerful network of friends that help him in both worlds, which is something he calls ”synergism.”

The article additionally discussed the relationship between Swann and McAuliffe, and Swann’s uncle, one Paul Mears, Sr., father of Paul Mears Jr.

The Mears family doesn’t seem to be a fan of Uber and Lyft. Mears III co-signed a letter (full text here) earlier this year from the TLPA discussing concerns with Uber and Lyft and other traditional taxi/limousine service company competitors.


Now isn’t that a coincidence? The governor’s father-in-law believes in mixing politics with business and calls it “synergism.” The cousin (Mears) of the governor’s father-in-law (Swann) provided the largest individual contribution by more than double of any other person involved in the taxi/limousine industry in Virginia in 2013. He provided it to Terry McAuliffe. And he has a taxi/limousine business presence in Virginia that sure doesn’t appear to care much for competitors such as Uber and Lyft. What a coincidence!

Perhaps Paul Mears and Terry McAuliffe are just engaging in Swann’s “synergism” though most honest people might call it corruption instead.

Of course money, cronyism, buying influence, and corruption is not limited to Terry McAuliffe or Democrats. We reported VPAP’s listing of campaign contributions from the taxi and limousine industry was the 5th largest of all Virginia industries. The largest organizational donation within this group ($60,500) belonged to the Virginia Taxicab Association. Seventy-five percent of those contributions went to Republican candidates for the Virginia General Assembly. The largest recipient was Republican Speaker of the Virginia House, William Howell.

Such contributions are rarely made without some expectation of a political dividend. Suppose Terry McAuliffe had not become governor. Who’s to say that the General Assembly might not have passed a state law to formalize what the DMV did instead?

Examples like this are exactly why government’s power must be limited. When government’s power grows, the value of holding office, and holding influence with office holders increases. In such a dynamic, free markets are perverted into the kind of crony capitalism (or crapitalism) that are so pervasive today where businesses spend more time coddling political relationships than improving their products or services. Free markets and the consumer would be better served by removing laws and restrictive regulations that limit competition and raise the cost of doing business.

We’ll leave you with the parting thought from the OS article that discussed McAuliffe’s and Swann’s business dealings:

The ethical watchdogs see people such as McAuliffe as a symptom of a political system in which fund-raisers earn clout that can be turned into opportunities to make money for themselves. “One of the problems we see is that very often the lines between political fund-raising and doing personal business are very blurry,” said Paul Hendrie of the Center for Responsive Politics, a non- partisan watchdog group. “It raises questions about whether the policy decisions being made are influenced by these relationships.”

Questions indeed…

On D-Day’s 70th Anniversary, a Simple Mission: Remember Them

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on a day remembered as “D-Day.” D-Day was one of World War II’s largest-scale operations, involving nearly 5,000 naval vessels, 11,000 aircraft, and some 150,000 soldiers—mostly representing the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. The National D-Day Memorial Foundation provides a stunning narrative:

“The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell.”

D-Day PictureFrom this day-long mission, the Allies suffered nearly 12,000 casualties, with 4,400 confirmed dead paying freedom’s heavy price to wrest Continental Europe from the hands of a Nazi tyrant. Despite losses of life and limb on a scale many of us cannot imagine from our relative positions of ease and comfort, they achieved their mission. The sacrifices made on D-Day allowed Allied Forces to gain a critical beachhead in Nazi-occupied France and from there launch the ground operations that would eventually lead to victory in Berlin one year later.

Seventy years later, time has taken its toll on the heroes who survived that day. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently estimated that approximately 670 World War II veterans die every day. This is more than double the rate at which soldiers were lost in active combat operations during the War itself. As their time is quickly passing, an important and living link to our national past will be forever lost. And so we each should take up a simple mission. Remember them. Remember the comforts they put aside, the loved ones they left behind, the blood they shed, and the lives they lost in the name of preserving freedom’s flame for a future generation. For you.

Remember them when some politician comes to you and asks you to voluntarily give up your freedom for the promise of comfort or security that is shackled with unseen chains. Remember that we will not give away with a pen that which was purchased with blood. Remember that we are not granted our rights and freedoms by a benevolent government in a distant city—for such a government could surely take away with one hand what it gives with another. Remember that government’s only legitimate purpose is to preserve, protect, and defend our freedom, not grant back to us meager parcels of what we already own. Remember that when you turn away from defending your gift of freedom, you or your descendants will have to pay the price for winning it back after it is lost. Remember that your freedom has been paid for by heroes like the ones who served and died on D-Day and many other days like it. Remember the significance of what they did, and remember how it enables us to enjoy the life and freedom we do today. Remember them.