Opinion and Economic Analysis

Hicks: Rulings limit state power, embrace freedom

July 2, 2014

This past couple of weeks has offered a rare series of court rulings that have implications for both households and businesses.

I write about the rejection of Indiana’s marriage rules, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the forced collection of union dues, and the Hobby Lobby case on inclusion of contraceptives in a company’s insurance plan.

To begin, I applaud vigorously all these rulings for a simple reason that each of them limits the power of the state and vested interests. The union case is easiest to explain. While in the midst of a five-decade free fall, the American union movement has resorted to such tactics as obliging politicians to force government contractors to pay union dues. On June 30, the Supreme Court ended that practice, which frees workers to make choices about union affiliation.

The marriage and contraceptive rulings split many Americans across religious lines, but I think the long sweep of history will commend both of these cases as a step forward for traditional freedoms. Picture in your mind the specific acts and behaviors the courts are addressing and then ask yourself a simple question: Why are we letting government decide these sorts of things for us?

The federal ruling that ended Indiana’s same sex marriage ban effectively allows any adult to apply a legal veneer to a lifestyle they are already free to choose. Gay couples can live and love together and marry in many churches. Like it or not, there is argument aplenty why religious groups might favor or object to these as models for their members. Freedom allows this.

But, judging by the birth announcements in my local paper—only half of whom were to married couples—traditional marriage is in some trouble with or without this ruling. This case should leave us all asking ourselves: Why would we let any state government dictate the ways we organize our families?

Of all these rulings, the most painful to read was the dissent in the Hobby Lobby ruling, delving as it did into arguments about conception that clearly belong as matters of conscience, not public policy. The majority wisely ruled that our personal beliefs follow us into our commercial lives. My advice: If you need your employer to pay for your contraceptives, don’t work at Hobby Lobby. If you don’t like this, don’t shop there.

The hypocrisy of traditionalists opposing marriage and progressives selectively applauding morality in corporations ultimately dooms the intellectual staying power of both camps. In the end, these three court rulings were all about less government involvement in the way we organize our households and our business affairs. History will view the marriage, union and contraceptive rulings as fundamental movement toward greater freedom—the most traditional of all our values.­•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and a professor of economics at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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