One argument that’s been made against the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby case is that they are not being forced to violate their religious principles, since they are not actually required to buy health insurance for their employees. As Patrick reported last week, Justice Elena Kagan openly disputed the idea that Obamacare imposes an employer mandate: Hobby Lobby can just pay a large fine instead.
By coincidence, the day after Justice Kagan made this assertion, I heard Professor Quentin Skinner (of Queen Mary, University of London) speak at the CUNY Graduate Center on the development of the concept of individual freedom in the Anglophone tradition. (Note: The previous sentence alone would qualify this as my most pretentious Corner post of the last two months, even if it were not my only Corner post of the last two months.) The first writer he discussed was Hobbes, and his description of Hobbes’s view of freedom was strikingly similar to the view of Justice Kagan.
The audience laughed at this, and Skinner smiled, but he reiterated that this was in fact Hobbes’s view. In fact, several centuries after Hobbes, this exact philosophical question arose on the Jack Benny radio comedy show. Benny’s stinginess was a recurring gag, so when a mugger said to him, “Your money or your life,” there followed a long pause. Finally the robber repeated, “Look, bud, I said, ‘Your money or your life!’” and Benny’s reply was, “I’m thinking it over . . .”
In both these cases, the idea that a decision between surrendering your money and losing your life can be thought of as a legitimate free choice was considered laughable. Yet when the proprietors of Hobby Lobby have to choose between paying a $2,000-per-employee annual fine and betraying their pro-life principles (“your money or your soul”), Justice Kagan sees it as a simple business decision, like selecting an Internet service plan.