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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Hobby Lobby opens; Affordable Care Act lurks in shadows

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ZEPHYRHILLS — Since becoming director of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce late in 2009, Vonnie Mikkelsen has been at the heart of more ribbon-cutting ceremonies than she can reliably estimate, let alone count.

“Maybe 70?” she says, her voice rising in a question. “I’d say it’s at least several dozen.”

OK, so she has borne witness to, at minimum, bunches of dozens of new or relocated or so significantly expanded to be considered new businesses in Zephyrhills, testimony — it bears noting — to the remarkable triumph of individual optimism and resourcefulness during grim economic times.

Accordingly, you could not blame Mikkelsen for imagining she’d seen it all. But until Monday, she’d never seen a local business christened with prayer. Then again, until Monday she’d not seen a Hobby Lobby stage a grand opening.

It doesn’t take a devoted fan of craft work to know the home office in Oklahoma City, Okla., is a furnace of passion for Christianity, or that it expects its 584 branch locations to serve their communities as space heaters for Jesus. The company’s newsmaking resistance to certain invasive aspects of the Affordable Care Act alerted Americans who’d never threaded a needle or squeezed the trigger on a glue gun to the faith mission CEO David Green considers Hobby Lobby’s inviolable bottom line.

Green says forcing businesses to provide coverage for “emergency” contraception — the infamous “morning-after pills” — amounts to abortion, thereby violating First Amendment guarantees regarding the free exercise of religion.

Disagreement exists in the medical community as to whether such pills do, in fact, cause abortions or merely impede fertilization like traditional contraceptives. And, plainly, Green’s complaint raises once more the controversy over whether constitutional rights extend to corporations — as though that weren’t settled law after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case. These and, presumably, other issues will be covered when the high court hears the case involving Hobby Lobby in March.

Meanwhile, the controversy has come, at last and at least peripherally, to east Pasco County. (Hobby Lobby opened in New Port Richey in November 2010.) As we ponder the possible arguments, it’s worth pointing out a person — Jesse Grandstaff, part of the company’s Management Ministries team — delivered the prayer, and it’s people who decided it’s God’s will all Hobby Lobbys are closed on Sundays.

Not that those on hand Monday morning were particularly interested in dwelling on the company’s famous feud with President Barack Obama. Residents may have put Hobby Lobby — “and not,” said Zephyrhills Mayor Danny Burgess, “just any old craft store” — at the top of their economic-development wish list in a chamber-conducted poll, but he was not prepared to say it had anything to do with the Affordable Care Act confrontation.

Neither was Mikkelsen, nor store manager Kenneth Eichorn, who demurred: “I’m just here to run things the right way.”

Grandstaff, an Oklahoma Baptist University alumnus and former youth pastor who declared himself “delighted” to have established Zephyrhills’ grand-opening blessing precedent, conceded anything he might say about the Affordable Care Act trampling the rights of the faithful — my words, not Grandstaff’s — would exceed his pay grade.

All of which is perfectly fine. What they won’t say we will:

What we witnessed Monday was all sorts of people of faith attempting to do what was good and right by their creator, their community, their customers and one another. For the price of a $50 dose, here’s hoping the Supreme Court acknowledges, respects and preserves that when it rules in June, even if the White House won’t.

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