Hobby Lobby and us: A study in freedom

Hobby Lobby and us: A study in freedom

Freedom is messy. From the American Nazi Party marching in Skokie, Ill., to the myriad websites promoting hatred of — insert the name of any religious, racial, or political group here — freedom is something we all cherish…until we are on the receiving end of someone else’s exercise of freedom.

Witness the flurry of discussion in and around Marlboro, where it was discovered that the newly opened Hobby Lobby arts and crafts and notions store did not stock items relating to Jewish holidays or Judaism in general. Various callers to the store management and to the company’s headquarters have reported responses indicating that the company is a Christian-owned company, and the absence of the Judaism-related items reflected what the company calls “our values.”

To put this into perspective, the parent company, Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., has refused to provide its employees with health insurance that covers the “morning after pill” for contraception. That case is on its way to the Supreme Court.

The company makes no bones about its Christian focus. In an op-ed piece in USA Today, owner David Green said, “We’re Christians, and we run our company on Christian principles.”

This may come as a shock to many of us who live in a part of the country where respect for other faiths is almost a necessity, but what Hobby Lobby is doing — at least as it relates to carrying or not carrying Jewish items — is completely legal. Stores can carry any items they choose. Whether it is smart business to ignore the Jewish market is another matter, but that, too, is not an issue of legality — or bias.

It has been reported that at least one employee in Marlboro told a Jewish customer, “We don’t cater to you people.” Even that statement, if it is true, is not illegal or discriminatory. If the store asked a person to leave because he or she was wearing a Jewish star, that would rise (or sink) to the level of discrimination, but otherwise it just doesn’t. That’s the messy part of freedom.

But that does not mean we are powerless, or helpless. The same freedom that allows Hobby Lobby to ignore Jewish interests also allows us to ignore Hobby Lobby. Our freedom includes the right to vote with our feet, and with our money. Not just in searching for Hanukka items, but for everything Hobby Lobby stocks. We are free, too — free to patronize the companies we choose.

Personally, I find Chick-fil-A’s publicly stated antipathy toward gays to be offensive, so I don’t eat there. And I believe Wal-Mart’s treatment of its employees is horrible, so I don’t shop there. That is my right, and the result of my freedom.

If you want to buy items for Hanukka, there are lots of choices. Start with the Judaica shop at any synagogue. Then try any of the local stores that recognize and respect our traditions, including, believe it or not, the Christmas Tree Shops in Freehold. And if you want to buy items that are sold in Hobby Lobby, it’s your choice whether to go there or somewhere else. Personally, I’ll go somewhere else.

In response to the furor, the Hobby Lobby management has apologized “for any possible employee comments that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends,” and is “reconsidering” its policy about not stocking Hanukka supplies. I don’t know what they will decide, or if a revised policy will extend only to the Marlboro store.

One last thought: I bet a lot of stores in Highland Park and Lakewood don’t stock any Christmas supplies at all. I assume they have decided that they don’t need to do that, and I respect their decision. But I also assume that they are comfortable knowing that Christians will choose to take their business elsewhere.

That’s freedom, in all its messy glory. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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