A group of clergy handed out condoms to customers in front of an Illinois Hobby Lobby store on Wednesday, staging a creative, faith-based protest against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant the craft store giant religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
The action, which was reportedly initiated by a local United Church of Christ (UCC) minister in Aurora, Illinois, included representatives from the UCC, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Planned Parenthood. Hobby Lobby’s health care plan covers male condoms and various other forms of contraception — and its case to the Supreme Court had to do with other kinds of measures to prevent pregnancy — but the religious leaders said the protest was ultimately about exposing the multiplicity of religious beliefs around contraception.
“I’m just hoping that (people who see the demonstration) realize that this opinion (of Hobby Lobby’s owners) is not the opinion of religious people as a broad spectrum, but that religious people have many different opinions,” Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, a UUA minister who was at the protest, told the Daily Herald.
Religious leaders also said they hoped the move would draw attention to the danger of allowing employers to privilege their own religious beliefs over those of their employees.
“You can make the religious freedom argument, you can make the argument about contraception, but ultimately, for me, this is about power,” said Rev. Mark Winters, a UCC minister. “Jesus had a lot of issue with powerful people using power over the powerless.”
The action in Aurora is part of a growing number of religious Americans who are publicly expressing their frustration with the Supreme Court’s decision. Several faith leaders have spoken out against Hobby Lobby’s position even before the decision was announced, and Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, was quick to blast the ruling, saying, “I am horrified by the thought that the owners of Hobby Lobby as Christians think their corporation has a soul, and I’m even more appalled that the Supreme Court agrees.”
Just hours after the court issued its ruling on Monday, a baptist minister held a prayer vigil outside Hobby Lobby’s flagship store in Edmond, Oklahoma, to decry the decision. According to a statement released by Faithful America, a progressive Christian group that helped organize the vigil, the crowd of religious faithful gathered to pray for “Hobby Lobby employees who will now have difficulty accessing health care they need to responsibly plan for their families’ futures.”
“There are many of us Baptists, as well as other Christians, who believe that religious liberty rights are something inviolable for individuals and not for corporations,” Dr. Bruce Powell, the leader of the protest, told News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City. “The right of religious liberty is a fundamental human right. Corporations are legal constructs. They are not human beings.”