Hobby Lobby not a 'hypocrite,' experts say

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Critics of Hobby Lobby are inconsistent and illogical when they charge the company with hypocrisy for offering a retirement plan which invests in companies that fund abortion, financial counselor Dave Ramsey and other commentators said.

Hobby Lobby founder David Green is "not a hypocrite," Ramsey said April 3 on his nationally syndicated radio program. "I have the same 401(k) plan. I'm a Christian." Recent attacks against Hobby Lobby's retirement plan are "based on a lack of logic" and "a lack of knowledge," Ramsey said.

Two days earlier, the liberal magazine Mother Jones had published an article claiming that while Hobby Lobby was challenging the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate in court, "it spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm's owners cite in their lawsuit."

As of December 2012, according to Mother Jones, the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds which included investments in companies that produced emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes matching contributions to its employee 401(k).

News outlets across America picked up the story, including NBC, CBS and Forbes. Writing in Forbes, commentator Rick Ungar accused Hobby Lobby of "sheer and stunning hypocrisy."

"From what I had previously been able to learn," Ungar said, the Green family "were decent people who have long taken appropriate care of [their] employees by paying in excess of minimum wage and providing all employees with healthcare benefits.”

"But to now discover that these people are seeking to avoid their obligation under the law to provide their employees with a contraceptive benefit at the same time they are allowing their 401(k) to invest in -- and profit from -- these very products is, in my view, completely unforgivable."

Ramsey and others responded that it is deceptive to insinuate that Hobby Lobby invested $73 million in abortion-causing products. An average mutual fund invests in 90-200 companies, a very small number of which may engage in objectionable activities, Ramsey said. Only a tiny fraction of that $73 million was invested in objectionable business ventures, he said.

Though Christians should not directly fund immoral activities, refusal to spend money on anything tied to a sinful behavior would result in an unreasonably isolated life, Ramsey said.

"That means you can't shop at your local grocery store because they've got a Playboy in the back. That means you can't give to the United Way in some markets because United Way in some markets is the exclusive supporter of Planned Parenthood and abortion. If you're against abortion, you can't invest there. It means you can't do business with your local bank, by the way, because they're the biggest supporter of United Way, who supports Planned Parenthood, who supports abortion," he said.

"How thin are you going to shave the apple?"

Additionally, buying stock in a company does not mean the buyer is giving money to the company, Ramsey said. Rather, investors purchase their shares of stock from other investors. Mother Jones' implication that Hobby Lobby invested $73 million in contraceptive pills is dishonest, he said.

Some Christians may feel compelled to invest in "socially screened" funds that reduce or eliminate the amount of money invested in companies that engage in questionable activities, Ramsey said. But those who level the charge of hypocrisy for "one penny out of a thousand dollars going into something" have "lost [their] way."

Tax expert and political commentator Ryan Ellis wrote in Forbes that 401(k) participants cannot always choose to invest in socially screened funds because plan administrators contract with investment providers to offer funds diversified in a specific manner. Hobby Lobby critics like Ungar and Mother Jones writer Molly Redden likely have 401(k) plans that invest in companies they find objectionable, Ellis said.

"Surely" Redden and Ungar's plans "invest in stocks of oil and gas companies, defense contractors, private equity firms, and other evil conservative power bastions," Ellis said. "Have Redden and/or Ungar done a forensic investigation of the mutual funds they are invested in? Should I call them hypocrites for daring to invest in a 401(k) which invests in a mutual fund which invests in a multinational company which happens to own an oil company?"

The Heritage Foundation's Sarah Torre said Hobby Lobby has demonstrated its commitment to maintain Christian principles through generosity to employees, closing stores on Sunday and limiting store hours to allow workers to spend more time with their families. She said recent charges of hypocrisy ring hollow.

"The Obamacare mandate the Greens are fighting against would force them to violate their deeply held beliefs under threat of crippling fines -- the same beliefs that motivate concern and care for their employees and customers," Torre said. "Numerous federal courts have ruled against the coercive mandate, and the Greens remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will also recognize their freedom to work according to their convictions -- regardless of the liberal media's absurd distractions."

On March 25, an attorney for Hobby Lobby argued before the Supreme Court that the company should be exempt from a federal regulation requiring employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can induce abortion, for their workers. A major question in the case is whether owners of for-profit companies can refuse to provide such coverage based on their religious beliefs. The Obama administration argued that they cannot.


David Roach is Baptist Press' chief national correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).