Conestoga Wood Specialties / Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case: An observation

There is a lot of blogging and writing, and tearing of shirts, and pointing of fingers in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell case (see info here), but I just had an observation.  If Conestoga Wood, whose headquarters are located in my area, are really “Conservative Mennonites” to the point that they will challenge the Affordable Care Act all the way to the Supreme Court, would they be open on July 4, U.S. Independence Day, since most Anabaptists do not celebrate national holidays? 

When I lived in Ephrata, PA, for a brief time, not too far from Conestoga Wood’s East Earl, PA, home, I learned that federal holidays were good times to stop by local Amish and Mennonite farms, who would never open on Sundays but were surely open on patriotic holidays.  I know that not all Mennonites or Anabaptists are the same, and that there are numerous movements and orders with different doctrines, teachings, and polities all in the Lancaster area, but I do know that it is part of the tradition not to observe national or patriotic holidays.

There is nothing on their main website about being closed today, but according to their customer portal page (which is not linked, as far as I could tell, on their main page), Conestoga Wood Specialties are in fact closed all weekend “in observance of Independence Day.”

I’ve not seen this reported or discussed anywhere in all of the writing on the subject, which I am trying to follow, so I thought it germane to contribute this to the conversation here.

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6 Responses to “Conestoga Wood Specialties / Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case: An observation”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This post indirectly brings up a little-noted aspect of religious freedom laws — it puts the secular state in the position of deciding whether you’re practicing your religion properly and in good faith.

  2. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Might they close their store for the convenience of their non-Mennonite employees, who want the day off? It’s not as if Mennonites are obligated to work on federal holidays; they can cancel work whenever it strikes them as a good idea, I should think, regardless of what holidays they recognize or don’t.

  3. Hop lite Says:

    The first two comments have already covered it:

    A) the government doesn’t get to judge the validity of religious objections based on how logically consistent they are (maybe the religion believes in arbitrary divine command from an oracle, for example, and doesn’t even intend or value any sort of coherent systematic framework), nor based on whether the parties in question are seemingly hypocritical.

    B) just because you don’t recognize a holiday doesn’t mean you’re obligated to work that day. Maybe as said its for their non-coreligionist employees, but for them it “just happens to be” a day off that lines up with the holiday. I’m not a Jew but we get Yom Kippur off where I work. Doesn’t mean I personally am being made to recognize the holiday just because I don’t demand to work that day in order to spite the observance or make it clear that I’m not participating.

  4. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    Daniel, I would support that but if the company owners and management are so entrenched in one particular religion that requires exemptions to employment laws, at least the management and owners would show up to work.

    So it seems that the question of granting exemptions is just for the asking, and not really whether the business as a religious “person” really practices the religion except when it’s convenient to do so.

    But then to Adam’s point, this places the secular government in the position to make a call about whether a person is actually practicing the religion.

    Here in Pennsylvania, for example, couples can get “self-uniting” marriage licenses, which is a practice that goes back to the state’s Quaker roots. The law states, and many counties also state on the license applications, that one must be a member of a religious community in which there are no clergy to unite the couple in marriage. In that case, the county will grant a self-uniting license, where the religious community is the actual officiant, and the couple legally join themselves into marriage. (Off the top of my head, this is primarily applicable to Quakers and Baha’is.)

    But I know at least two counties’ paperwork for marriage licenses state that one has to prove membership in such a religious body. So the local county orphan’s court office administrators are examining and validating church membership? Or claim to know the specifics of all religions’ polities?

  5. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    Hop lite, I agree, but if the business is in fact a “person” who can hold religious beliefs, at minimum the person who hold those religious beliefs, I assume, practice some aspect of their business beyond restricting reproductive health of non-adhering employees. Since, as I said, it is common for members of this particular sect, or group of sects, to work on patriotic holidays as a faith practice.

  6. Ruth Marshall Says:

    re Adam’s point, yes, it’s one of those little-noted ironies. I recently pointed out on the Immanent Frame this role of ‘theologian state’ – such determinations would have been required of the provincial government had Quebec’s “charter of values” passed. Winnifred Faller Sullivan’s “The Impossibility of Religious Freedom” is good on this problem in the US.


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