Church and State: Hobby Lobby and its Critics

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Dr. Malcolm Cross


A dispute has flared up on the internet over an advertisement placed by Hobby Lobby in several
American newspapers on July 4 th . Hobby Lobby’s chief critic, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is
claiming that Hobby Lobby’s ad is part of a campaign “to undermine America’s secular heritage and
impose a Christian nationalist agenda.” Other critics say Hobby Lobby is trying to promote an
unconstitutional Christian theocracy. Hobby Lobby is possibly naïve; its critics are reading far more into
the add than its actual content justifies. The controversy reflects disputes over other issues which
Hobby Lobby should more forthrightly address. And Hobby Lobby also need to remember certain
principles about church-state separation while the FFRF develops a better understanding of the
requirement for the need for evidence to back of charges.
Hobby Lobby is a chain of arts and crafts stores. Its website says it is “Honoring the Lord in all
we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” It frequently places
ads with religious themes in American newspapers to commemorate various holidays. Its July 4 th ad
can be seen at 21-0843-2021-IDMA-DownloadablePDF (hobbylobby.com).
Exactly what makes this ad so controversial is not clear from its actual content. Its critics claim
the ad advocates a Christian theocracy, but the words in the ad itself do no such thing.
Prominently featured in the ad is a quotation from Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose
God is Lord.” And that’s it. That’s the only quotation from the Bible cited therein.
The rest of the ad merely quotes various Founding Fathers, American Presidents, Supreme Court
justices, and other commentators on the virtues of religion. Nobody quoted therein was explicitly
advocating the imposition of a Christian national theocracy. Indeed, some of the men quoted—George
Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin—helped draft the Constitution, which explicitly
rejects the imposition of any religious test for service in the government and implicitly rejects the
creation of an official state church. And of course the First Amendment—added to the Constitution
during the Washington Administration—forbids more explicitly the establishment of an official religion.
The FFRF charges that Hobby Lobby has taken the quotations featured in its ad, which out of
context, and to support its accusation it’s offered its own quotations from Washington, Adams,
Jefferson, Madison, John Quincy Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, wherein they caution against religious
extremism. Its counter-ad can be seen at https://ffrf.org/images/FFRF_GodlessConst_NYT_11x21.jpg.
But there’s no real conflict between the quotations offered by Hobby Lobby and those offered by the
FFRF: It’s possible to admire the good features of religion while deploring its excesses as well. Besides,
the FFRF has failed to explain how the quotations in Hobby Lobby’s ad can be interpreted as a call for
theocracy anyway.
So what’s really at the basis of this controversy between Hobby Lobby and its critics? As our
society grows more secular, the religious become more likely to be charged with dishonesty and
hypocrisy, whether fairly or unfairly. A story that a politician claiming to be a Christian Conservative
Republican who’s been found to be cheating on his wife while encouraging his girlfriend to get an
abortion is considered more newsworthy than one about the misconduct of a more secular public figure.
Articles charging Hobby Lobby with attempting to create an official state church frequently allege that
Hobby Lobby violated Covid-related laws and rules about interpersonal mingling, purchased illegally-
imported artifacts from the Middle East, and denied its employees access to several birth control
abortifacients. Honesty and candor from all parties to these disputes are required.
And both Hobby Lobby and the Freedom From Religion Foundation must realize other principles
as well:

Hobby Lobby, as well as anyone seeking a greater role for religion in politics, are well within
their First Amendment rights to advocate whatever they choose. But they must understand that the
greater the degree to which a particular faith or denomination is identified with the prevailing political
authority, the greater the degree to which the public will reject its tenants as a means of expressing its
opposition to that prevailing power. Western European nations which have, or have had in the recent
past, official state churches—the Anglican Church in England, the Evangelical Lutheran churches in
Scandinavia–are becoming more secular and the official churches are experiencing increasing losses in
membership even as they remain subsidized and propped up by the governments. On the other hand,
churches operating independently of, or in opposition to, the government—Baptists and Mormons in
Latin America, the Catholic Church when Poland was a dictatorship—frequently thrive with a vibrancy
and enthusiasm among their adherents that are the envy of more established churches. Anyone who
wants more religion in public life would be well advised to abstain from advocating any relationship with
government, as well as to take care that he practices what he preaches.
And the FFRF and Hobby Lobby’s other critics, while likewise legitimately exercising their
constitutional rights, should not overplay their hands. They should say no more than what the facts can
support. They’ve charged Hobby Lobby with seeking to create a theocracy based on its owners views,
but such a charge cannot be supported either by the content of Hobby Lobby’s ad or by anything else
they’ve cited. To make charges which are false or which at least cannot be adequately supported will, in
the long run, undermine their own credibility rather than the targets of their criticisms.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

1 Comment

  1. Our Founders wrote and ratified our godless Constitution creating our secular government for good reasons, and we ignore their wisdom to our peril. To our real and actual peril in cases such as the Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1844 wherein we saw Christians murdering each other in the streets, and burning down each-other’s churches over which version of the Bible was to be used in the tax-funded schools, when CLEARLY the right answer was NONE OF THEM because government is not empowered or authorized to promote theism over non-theism, religion over a-religion, and certainly not one religious sect over another.

    James Madison called the creation of the Offices of House and Senate Chaplain – clergy paid for the performance of religious rituals by the taxpayers – a “palpable violation” of the Constitution.

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