Two institutions ignoring government orders on the grounds of religion
Editors’ Note: All statistics in this article were up to date at the time of printing.
It is not an exaggeration when people talk about how we all are living in very different times. With the outbreak of COVID-19, our lives have been turned upside down. Governments both here at home and abroad have essentially shut down all aspects of our daily lives in order to flatten the curve and hopefully prevent the continuing mass spread of the disease. With global cases at well over one million, the United States has quickly become the leading nation in cases with over 362,000 and growing. This has prompted governors from all but 4 states to issue the closing of non-essential services. The closings have left only businesses such as health care facilities, manufacturing and infrastructure entities, trash collections, law enforcement and homeless shelters open. Businesses like bars and restaurants have moved to take-out or delivery options to limit the amount of face-to-face contact. But despite all of the restrictions, there has been pushback from various businesses and schools that oppose being forced to close. Two giants that are headlining this are Hobby Lobby and Liberty University.
Hobby Lobby is no stranger to controversy. The craft store giant is owned by David and Barabara Green, who are widely known, and outspoken, about their support of Christian organizations. Known as one of the largest donors to the Evangelical church, the store has had numerous legal battles. In 2014, the Supreme Court heard Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a case that argued whether or not Hobby Lobby was forced to give employees access to contraceptives even if it came in conflict with the company’s religious beliefs. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, allowing the continuation of barring access to contraceptives to Hobby Lobby employees. Once again, the arts and crafts superstore finds themselves in the headlines for using their religion as a means to continue to exploit their employees and make money. In a statement reportedly made by CEO, David Green, Green declared that the stores would remain open because of what his wife Barbara experienced during her prayer. Green said “In her quiet prayer time this past week, the Lord put on Barbara’s heart three profound words to remind us that He’s in control. Guide, Guard and Groom.” Green continues in his statement to his employees that they, along with the many others, do not know what the future will hold, but that “we can all rest in knowing that God is in control.” It is these statements that have led to outrage against the company’s negligence and flat out lack of care for the safety of their employees, as well as potential patrons.
In a statement on their website from early March, Hobby Lobby announced that they would remain open in states without mandatory stay at home orders, but keep the health of all of their employees and shoppers in mind. Enhanced cleanings, restricted domestic employee travel and increasing the availability of items on their online stores were all part of their plan to keep the shops running. The enhanced cleaning part was very confusing due to its vagueness. The company stated: “We have increased the frequency of store cleaning, including more cleaning of areas regularly touched by customers and employees, with antiviral cleaning products throughout the day.” Nowhere does it describe specific actions that they will be taking, such as employees wearing protective masks, gloves and an increase in hand sanitizers available to patrons and workers. They also failed to mention whether or not they have highlighted spots near the checkout areas to keep in line with the government-recommended six feet distance between people.
In a second statement, Hobby Lobby announced April 3 that they would be temporarily closing all of their stores, going against the strong front they put up in the beginning. Even though the company has now taken into consideration the health of their employees and customers, they have still caused damage. In the prior statement released in early March, Hobby Lobby mentioned that it would be monitoring, as well as restricting, employees’ domestic travel. In the event that an employee got sick, they would tell them to self-isolate and get tested (if possible). What they didn’t mention were the tremendous injustices that the company would be doing to those employees if they found themselves sick or too concerned with their own wellbeing or the wellbeing of their families. In an internal memo that was sent by Hobby Lobby, the company explained its plan for what would happen in the worst-case scenario. If stores were forced to close (which they are now), employees would be required to use their vacation and personal days. Once those days run out, the employee would be forced to receive 75% of their regular rate pay. The regular rate pay is determined not by their regularly scheduled shifts, but by the average amount of hours in the last six weeks. However, an even more aggressive approach was taken with those employees who became sick. If an employee becomes sick, they would have to use their vacation and sick days to compensate for their missed time. But if they used up all of those days, they would be forced to take an unpaid leave of absence until they were able to return to work. The system forces employees who are making $15.70 per hour full-time and $10.45 per hour part-time, in a position where they must put their health at risk to make sure that they can pay the bills and possibly help to provide for their families.
Now that Hobby Lobby has been forced to close stores, they have flipped their commitment to their employees, leaving them in the cold. In their April statement that announced the closing of their stores, they also laid out what would happen to now furloughed employees. Hobby Lobby employees are now being put in a position where they will not be able to receive emergency leave pay. Combined with the suspension of the company’s provided paid time off benefits, employees will now be forced to enroll with the government to see if they are eligible to receive Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Recovery Rebates. Hobby Lobby also encouraged furloughed employees to “file their claims with their State’s unemployment commissions as soon as possible.” They will continue to provide all employees with medical, dental, life and long-term disability benefits, but this will only last to “at least May 1, 2020.” While this may seem generous to some people, what they do not recognize is that other companies like Gap and H&M are still paying their employees even though they are not able to work in person in their stores. Hobby Lobby still claims in their April statement that they sell “essential products, including materials to make personal protective equipment, such as face masks, educational supplies for the countless parents who are now educating their children from home, and the thousands of small arts and crafts businesses who rely on us for supplies to make their products.”
Another institution that has hit the headlines during the COVID-19 outbreak has been Liberty University. The 4-year, private, Evangelical university in Virginia has given students the okay to come back to campus, even though the state’s governor has deemed it unsafe for colleges to continue in-person learning. It is home to over 45,000 students and is in a poorer area of Virginia, where lack of supplies could lead to catastrophic consequences. School President, Jerry Falwell Jr. called for students to come back to campus following their spring break. Although the college still provides full online classes, the temptation to be back in a community such as a college campus is strong for college students who could be missing their friends or their last semester of college. Falwell is also a well-known supporter of President Trump and has made statements calling the response to the pandemic an “overreaction” driven by liberal politics. As of March 29, nearly a dozen students had contacted the school’s health services complaining of COVID-19-like symptoms. The next day, a student tested positive for COVID-19. While on a far-right radio talk show, Falwell expressed his frustrations for being blamed, saying that the blame was only because “we’re conservative, we’re Christian and therefore we’re being attacked.” According to Falwell, students that had been traveling from hot areas such as New York state and city, as well as New Jersey, had been quarantined with school officials bringing them food and other necessities.
Hobby Lobby and Liberty University have shown the lengths that institutions and companies are willing to go to in order to remain open and defiant of a federal and state order when they feel it violates the thinly-veiled duty given to them by God. Hobby Lobby has ceased to amaze many as they continue to use their religion as a means to game the system to benefit them financially. Liberty University, in an effort to give students a place to call home, has jeopardized the health and safety of a community already at a disadvantage because of their lack of resources. In both cases, the two refuse to look at those that they will be hurting in this process. But as Proverbs 22:16 says, “Whoever oppresses the poor for his own increase and whoever gives to the rich, both come to poverty.”
Alyssa Spady is a second-year journalism major who believes in science, you know, like everyone else in America should. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.