The Gospel According to Hobby Lobby—With Brian Leiter

July 07, 2014

To discuss last week’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Point of Inquiry welcomes Dr. Brian Leiter, law professor and philosopher at the University of Chicago. He’s the author of several books including Why Tolerate Religion?. He blogs at Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog.

Leiter and host Lindsay Beyerstein discuss what the Hobby Lobby decision means for women’s health, corporate personhood, and the separation of church and state.

In 2013, Leiter headlined a daylong symposium with the Center for Inquiry (the organization that produces Point of Inquiry), and you can watch the video here.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, July 7th, 2014. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Dr Brian Later, a philosopher and law professor at the University of Chicago. He’s the author of several books including Why Tolerate Religion, published in 2013 by Princeton University Press. He blogs at Later Reports, a philosophy blog. He’s here today to talk to me about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which pitted the Department of Health and Human Services against the chain of craft stores owned by religious family who didn’t want to pay for insurance that covered certain forms of birth control as they were required to do under Obamacare. The court ruled five four in Hobby Lobby’s favor. Brian, welcome to the program. 

Thank you very much for inviting me. 

In a nutshell, why did Hobby Lobby prevail before the Supreme Court? 

Did the Hobby Lobby prevail? Well, there’s so many ways to explain that of five fairly conservative Catholic justices who wanted to signal to the very religious people out there, we hear you. That’s that’s definitely the correct explanation. But it’s probably a slightly cynical one. 

If you could give us sort of a 30000 foot view about what Hobby Lobby’s argument was and on what basis the court made its ruling, that would be great. All right. 

So first thing to bear in mind was this was not a constitutional decision. It was a decision on there’s something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was a federal statute passed in 1993. That statute was in response to an earlier Supreme Court decision that Congress didn’t like. What the statute basically says is that Congress will bind itself not to pass laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religion when there is a less restrictive or burdensome alternative that will need a compelling interest of the government. That’s the basic standard of the of the statute. Hobby Lobby and the other challenger, the other company challenging the provisions of the Affordable Care Act were both family owned businesses, in the legal terminology, closely held corporations. Both families were serious, sincere Christians, both of whom believe that life begins at conception. They argued that it violated their free exercise of religion. Rights under referrer refer to the acronym for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

They argued it violated their free exercise of religion under referrer to be forced to pay for health insurance for their employees. That which the employees might utilize to access certain kinds of contraception. They are particularly concerned about post conception contraception. Just say the morning after pill to make it simple. It’s more complicated than that. And the court had to decide several questions. First, they had to decide, is Hobby Lobby a for profit corporation? A person who’s free exercise rights can be violated within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The court said yes. Secondly, they had to decide whether the free exercise of religion of Hobby Lobby was substantially burdened by the regulation here. They pointed to the fact that if Hobby Lobby did not comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, they will be liable for very substantial financial penalties. It’s a back and forth about what those might be. But they added up to a lot of money on that basis. 

They said this is a substantial burden and I’ll come back to that, because that seems to me to. Really the most difficult issue in this case, the next question was, well, does the government have a compelling interest? The court said they will assume that the provision of contraception is a compelling governmental interest. 

I will just note as a side note that Justice Alito, a very conservative Catholic, granted the government that there is a compelling interest in providing contraception. 

Times change. We wouldn’t have heard such a concession in 1965 or 1870, probably. 

OK. So there he said there is a compelling he could take it for granted. He’s not not going to contest that. So he says, look, there’s obviously a less restrictive way of meeting the interest. And at this point, I think he’s got the right side of the argument because the federal court. 

It had already permitted nonprofit corporations, nonprofit entities such as the University of Notre Dame Catholic University to opt out of paying for health insurance that would cover contraceptives. What they did in that case is they shifted the cost on to basically the insurer. Again, it’s a little complicated, depending on whether it’s an external insurer or whether the company is self-insured. But the point is they had already let non-profits out of this obligation. And there’s a Breem court basically says there’s at least a less restrictive alternative. Let insurers pay for it. That imposes no costs on the employees. They still get contraception. And there’s no longer any alleged burden on the free exercise of religion by the party that has a religious objection to contraception. 

He also fought the idea that there’s always a less restrictive option in terms of the government just picking up the tab. 

Right. So this is the great irony of this opinion, is that in principle, following the logic of the argument here, the Supreme Court could conclude that in order to protect the free exercise of religion of all corporate and non nonprofit entities, we need to have national health care. 

The argument for single payer. 

Right, exactly. That is an upshot of the logic of this argument. I guarantee the court will won’t go down that particular road here. They just kind of seized on the fact that the government had already specifically carved out an exception for religious, not for profit organizations on this specific issue, namely the provision of contraceptive services. Now, again, there’s a slight side note, as you probably know. University of Notre Dame is challenging even this. I think the way I read the Hobby Lobby opinion is Notre Dame case gets the U.S. Supreme Court. They’re not going to, I think, prevail because the court in Hobby Lobby seems very happy with the Obama administration’s way of handling religious, not profit corporations, namely shifting the costs onto the to the insurers. And it’s also a little puzzling what Notre Dame’s objection is, because all the law requires them to do to get exempted is to complete some paperwork. And it’s a little unclear whether completing paperwork is a substantial burden on their free practice of religion. 

There’s a very strange losses another day. 

I would like to argue that not having to do any paperwork ever is part of my religion to be very convenient. 

Right. The courts aren’t going to go for that. No. 

I mean, when I think about free exercise of religion, I tend to think about things like wearing a turban or wearing a hijab or something like that. I mean, in what sense is not buying insurance? You don’t like exercising your religion. 

Yeah. So this is the this is the issue that I think the court treats implausibly in the in the Hobby Lobby opinion. So Hobby Lobby’s position is basically roughly this. We don’t want to pay for DiMauro medical services. The court will grant that the Hobby Lobby owner is behind family, that behind genuinely believe life begins at conception. They therefore believe that any form of contraception right after the egg has been fertilized is akin to murder. Court will accept that at face value. And therefore they will accept the Hohns family claim. We don’t want to pay for murder. It violates our free exercise of religion. It offends our religious conscience to pay for murder. That’s the position, in essence, that the that the court acknowledged here. Now, I’ll tell you why. It seems to me not plausible in this case. It seems to me not plausible because, of course, what the are really doing is paying for health insurance, which their employees might elect to use to access contraceptive services, of which the harms disapprove. So there’s a lot of intermediary factors here. There’s the health insurance and then there’s the decision of the employee who doesn’t find contraception. Right. Morally problematic. And I think this is the aspect of the decision that that rubs most people the wrong way, quite reasonably, which is I mean, we now have a decision which says that if your employer finds certain medical practices morally offensive or unacceptable, you as the employee can’t have access to them. That’s the worry. Right. And that sounds kind of crazy. It is crazy. 


But that is what Hobby Lobby did, though, with the caveat that the employees will still continue to have access to contraception in this case, it’ll just be paid for by someone else. But in that sense, female employees of Hobby Lobby are going to be unaffected by this particular decision. But the principle is a kind of spooky principle, may be that the religious lives of your employer might possibly circumscribe your access to health care. 

What would happen if a Christian Science employer decided they didn’t want to cover insurance that paid for anything? 


So the the majority opinion by Justice Alito in Hobby Lobby spent a fair bit of time touching on issues like this. They didn’t specifically mention Christian science. But what’s clearly the case is that a closely held corporation run by a Christian Science family could use Hobby Lobby to challenge precisely what you said because we having to provide health insurance at all because they don’t believe in any of those medical services. 

What I think the court what the lower courts are going to say, and this will be following on the suggestions and Justice Alito’s opinion is that he may say, well, you know, for that kind of position, the government’s compelling interest in making sure people have access to health care, they can’t be met in any alternative way. And therefore, there can’t be any exemptions. In other words, they will say there is no less restrictive alternative. 

Why couldn’t they just said the government could pay for the health care of Christian science, where parents come and their people work for a Christian science adherence? 

So they they could do that. But they’re not going to because partly for reasons we touched the whole 16th earlier. It will be tantamount to saying that the only way to protect free exercise of religion is that single payer health care. 

Don’t notice, of course, single payer health care is ultimately funded by taxes, too. So, you know, Hohns family is still tax rates. But one thing we know from past Supreme Court cases is that any challenge to paying taxes on free exercise grounds, all these sales, the fact that the courts have their limits. This Shrek’s fight, they’re not about to tinker with the Internal Revenue system. So could they carve out a special one slot thing for the Christian Scientists? I guess they could, but are that a lot of money? They’re not going to do that. I think what they will say and notice right in the case of the Christian Science is it’s not like there’s already. And a program in place for the not for profit versions of the creative side of this. 

Right. So I think the court did make a big deal out of that because the court doesn’t really they don’t want to be in you know, they’re not going to issue a holding that says the United States has to establish a single payer health care to protect the exercise. Right. There are limits to what kind of demands that the court is going to make on the governments in terms of funding alternatives. Some. So the Christian science is, I think, are going to lose the the harder cases are going to be the ones who have very specific objections to particular procedures. So the court specifically mentions vaccinations and blood transfusions. And again, I think what courts are going to say if they’re asked about this, is that the interest is sufficiently compelling blood transfusion to protect and preserve life. Vaccinations. You know, to prevent serious disease and also preserve and protect life. And they’re going to say there really isn’t a less restrictive alternative in place. And notice. Right, that part of the government’s rationale for why the insurers could pick up the cost of contraception is that it actually saves the insurers money in comparison to paying for prenatal care, paying for 18 years of pediatric care at solid example. 

It did not going to be able to make that argument in a powerful way. Well, they could, I guess, about vaccinations. They take that back so that we might see that argument, the vaccination case, namely, it’s cheaper for insurers to pay for vaccinations than it is to let people get measles and polio, for example. And that’s interesting. Well, we’ll see how the courts handle that. You know, the case of blood transfusions. It’s actually not cheaper to pay for the blood transfusion will be cheaper to have the person die because of basically get rid of all their large scale trauma costs. 

They would never have to do any of those surgeries on these people who actually die on the table. 

Right. But the court’s not going to argue that for the obvious reasons. It’s not a cost cutting measures the court to ignore. So the government doesn’t sound very pro-life. Right. 

But at least to that extent. 

So but we are going to see litigation about precisely these issues in the lower courts. My guess is most of the lower courts will reject these challenges in the ways we’ve been we’ve been talking about. But it’s possible one of these will get to the U.S. Supreme Court again. My suspicion is this is really a kind of once off decision about one procedure, contraception, and that a lot of what’s going on here is, you know, no, these justices just don’t think contraception is as important as vaccinations or blood transfusions. They just don’t take it that seriously as a medical procedure. And guess what? There’s this alternative already in place for not for profit. So why not? Why not do that? I think they’re going to you know, they’re going to hesitate very severely if they get asked about, you know, other kinds of medical procedures, other kind of medical procedures that 80 year old men might be for. 

Well, it seems like the law is really clear and you can’t get around. I mean, as long as it exists. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act says that, you know, if it’s a significant burden, then apparently paying for stuff your religion doesn’t like over insurance is a significant burden, a significant burden. And there exist, as the law says, less invasive alternatives then. Doesn’t the state have no choice in the court? Have no choice but to say, yes, that would just Freedom Restoration Act requires us to. 

Yeah. So, no, I mean, again, there the court is not going to say that. And the lower courts are not going to say that because the the the logic of that response is in order to protect the free exercise rights. We have to have national health care, which we don’t presently have. The alternative would be to say in order to get free exercise rights, we have to have qualified national health care that is tailored to the needs of each particular religious just. They’re not going to say that either. 

Could they say we’re going to strike down the river? 

No, they’re not going to. They’re not going to do that. What they’re going to say is there’s no less restrictive alternative that’s viable. 

They’re just ready to say it has to be viable. Say it again. 

Does refresh, say it has to be done. It just says it has to exist. It doesn’t say it has to be affordable or politically viable or anything. 

Now, the that’s not how that’s not how it gets interpreted. Right. I forget the exact language in refer, but built into the idea of a less restrictive alternative is a less restrictive possible alternative that’s available to the government. And in this case, there was one clearly available. How do we know is fully available to the government had already established it with respect to the not for profit. The government has an already established single payer except for people over 65. And and the very poor. But, you know, I suppose I mean, a very progressive court could turn this on its head and argue we already have a program that’s called the Medicare and Medicaid, not Social Security. We’re not going to see that even even from, you know, very liberal courts like the 9th Circuit. They’re just not going to go down that route. The you know, the liberal circuits are going to reject these claims on the grounds that there isn’t that the government clearly has a compelling interest in blood transfusions, vaccinations schemes and so on. And there is no less restrictive alternative available. Therefore, the employer has got to pay up. 

So it’s not going to create a body of precedents where birth control is considered in the law to be second class health care. 

So, of course, you know, the court is very careful not to not not to say that explicitly. But in when you think about other kinds of medical procedures, where. My prediction is that I think I’m probably right. The courts are going to be less sympathetic to challenges. 

But that does seem to be the message that they couldn’t do that either. It’s not that surprising given the current composition of the Supreme Court. But they’re still going to hold them and say that’s explicitly what’s going on here. Indeed. Right. They concede there is a compelling interest in ensuring access to contraceptive services. Or rather, I should be careful. They say we’re going to assume that we’re not going to decide one way or the other. And I suppose even that is leaving open an out for for a different decision. 

So suppose I’m part of the Alliance Defending Freedom, where those conservative legal organizations that watches these precedents add up. Could I take a bunch of lower court precedents where the courts have said, well, you know, blood transfusions are more important than birth control and vaccinations are more important than birth control and all of medical care is more important than birth control. Can I add all those things together and make an argument in the court that really the courts have held for a long time that birth control is not equal health care and that that should something should follow from that? No, no. 

You want this because. No, none of the none of the other court decisions say that, right? I mean, we have a series of Supreme Court decisions that establish an individual’s fundamental constitutional right to have access to and utilize contraception. 

That was established in the late 60s, admittedly 60s. So that’s already there. Alito even cites that in the majority opinion. What these cases say is that what I predicted they’re going to say is that there are less restrictive alternatives in these other cases. 

And again, remember what what makes the government’s position in Hobby Lobby tricky is they did already establish. An opt out for nonprofits on precisely this issue, contraception. So in some sense, the government already put contraception on the chopping block. And the Supreme Court, you know, seized upon that. But as they say, so that that part of the court’s argument probably wasn’t implausible. Right. The first trouble starts with the decision that closely held corporations and perhaps other corporations can be persons for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And that’s arguable. And then the really big mistake was, in my opinion, was the court’s decision not to scrutinize the claim of Hobby Lobby, of the Horne family and having to pay for health insurance that their employees make use for contraception somehow bowdon their free exercise of religion. And this was this is where the court says, well, we’re not going to get into scrutinizing people’s religious beliefs as to whether they’re sensible or not. There’s one sense in which that’s true. Right. The court is not going to get into deciding the question, is it reasonable to think life begins at conception? For example, they’ll accept that the base as these sincere religious belief of the parties contesting the law. But that’s not quite what’s what’s at issue here, because the court does have to decide that. The court has to decide whether as a matter of law. And this is the point Justice Ginsburg makes in dissent. The court had to decide whether, as a matter of law, there really a substantial burden on the free exercise of their religion. And that’s the question they dodge. You know, I mean, think of it this way. Suppose the Hohn family comes to court and says we have a sincere religious belief that our free exercise rights under reform are violated by the Affordable Care Act. 

The court doesn’t have to defer to that precisely the question. 

So therefore, they should have taken up the question whether or not there was really a substantial burden on their sincere belief that life begins at conception. But they dodge that in entirely. And once they dodge that and they can just go straight to how much will it cost them not to comply with the law, that looks like a terrible burden. But that’s already too late. They’ve already jumped over the real issue, which is can you really say it’s a substantial burden that you pay for something that someone might use to do something you don’t like? And the irony here is, as I made I think I mentioned earlier in the tax context, people say I don’t want to pay a certain portion of my taxes, that I don’t like what the government is doing with the money. Those cases always lose even the. The Omeish case, Lee Lee case, where an Amish business said, we don’t want to pay Social Security taxes. And the Supreme Court safely in order to say, look, the fact that it was a business didn’t stop the Supreme Court from agreeing that their free exercise rights could be a burden. That’s true. Courts right about that, they leave out what we actually decided hooches, Lee said. But. Social Security represents a compelling government interest you’re going to have to pay. And that was the real upshot. And, you know, so then the question is right? Yes. If you have to pay the taxes and your Social Security, then if you have religious objections to it. What’s the difference between that and paying for the health insurance of that then? If that money goes to things you may have a religious objection to and you face big fines if you don’t pay your taxes and DJ Grothe will penalize you. Right. It’s not optional. But once again, you’re contributing money to activities, not all of which you may approve of, but you’re not engaging the activities. We could agree even I would agree it would be a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion by the horns to demand that they utilize the board against it, too. I’m happy to let them opt out of it. They can have whatever crazy beliefs they want to have. You know, when life begins. But that’s not what the law is doing. The law is giving other people the option to have a different view about that. But as I say, the court, the court just for the dodge that that entire issue. 

And that seems to me the clear mistake in in the the arguments of the Hobby Lobby opinion. 

Now, the lawyers that I talked to seem to think that it didn’t make the empirical basis of Hobby Lobby’s argument whether or not any of these methods actually did prevent implantation of fertilized over. Nobody thought that that was going to be legally important, even though the overwhelming consensus is that they’re just totally wrong, that that’s fantasy, that the law was not forcing them to participate in what they would regard as abortions. Why doesn’t it matter? 

So that’s an interesting question. I mean, I’ve read something about this, and this, of course, gets us into the as it were, the mechanics of how these different forms of contraception actually work. It does seem to me that if they are wrong about the mechanics of how the contraception works, then we could grant their sincere religious leave. That life begins at conception, but argue there’s no substantial burden because these forms of contraception don’t interfere with life after conception. The only thing I’ll note about that is we could just change. Our plaintiffs say, yeah, let’s find the Catholic Courts Corporation that just objects to all contraception. That’s the University of Notre Dame as a not for profit. But it is strange, right? And it is strange. And that’s certainly a factual issue, which the court doesn’t have to defer. Right. Or they shouldn’t defer. That is if you if you have a forced. You have a sincere religious belief. Life begins at conception. Your belief about how a particular contraception works is not a sincere religious belief. But that’s right. It’s a factual belief. That’s either true or false. My guess is this. And I haven’t looked at it the way these cases were brief. You know, there’s probably certain nuances in how they frame the challenge that that are missing from the the opinion that allowed this to survive. Because otherwise, you know, it would be it would be pretty mysterious. Right? Because it will be as if the hard family said, we believe life begins at conception and therefore we object to the provision of crop benefit. 

To the fact that people would say, what a non sequitur. 

I suspect there’s some some further complications there. But I think the key thing to realize is even if that’s only wrong about how these contraceptive drugs and devices actually work, you could still find someone else who would have a religious objection that would encompass all contraception, not just so-called morning after pills. And you know that that family of contraception. 

This is all keeps coming back to refrain. It’s really onerous requirements. Is there any move afoot to abolish Referer legislatively? 

None whatsoever. None whatsoever. And I doubt we will see one in my lifetime or your life involved. 

I assume you got an extra 20 percent? 

Yeah, I when reform was enacted, I mean, it was a tidal wave of hostility to the Supreme Court’s decision, which said you don’t have to carve out exemptions for neutral laws of general applicability across the boards at the state level in Congress. Many of the state supreme courts have since interpreted their state constitutions to require exemption when there are less restrictive alternatives and so on. And Bill Clinton signed referrer and he defended it against various constitutional challenges. Part of reform was struck down. But the part at issue here remains I don’t see you know, I don’t see any hope of a constitutional lawyer. 

Do you feel that it’s constitutional to have exceptions to laws of general applicability based on religion? 

Wow. So there’s there’s two ways to answer that question. It is clearly constitutional for the federal government to say we will not enforce any laws that substantially burden religion when there are less restrictive alternatives available to meet the government’s compelling interest. That constitution, in a sense, the question is, is it quite the real question here is and isn’t constitutional right? It’s whether this is a morally sound policy. And of course, you know, my position, which is the one I defend in in my book on why tolerant religion is that I have legal status quo in the United States enacts a fundamental inequality between religious and non-religious conscience right at the start. There’s just a fundamental inequity here. But then secondarily, I argue that we really shouldn’t carve out exemptions for neutral laws of general applicability unless those exemptions don’t impose costs on other people. 

So that makes, for example, vaccination cases very easy on my view, which is, you know, you have people free ride and you end up shifting costs onto others. Right, because other people get the diseases, maybe even your kids get it. That would have been prevented with vaccines, vaccinations. 

And that was basically the Employment Division vs. Smith rule in in 1990, more or less there. There are some there are some differences. So that seems to me a more sensible approach. So I don’t see much harm and exemptions where, as it were, the exemptions helped defeat the purpose of the law exemption. The vaccination was defeat. 

The purpose of vaccination was, you know, exemptions to laws requiring you to remove your headdress for purposes of a driver driver’s license photo. They don’t necessarily write. You know, someone keeps their yarmulke on or their turban. You can still identify them. So that’s how I would I would distinguish them. I want to emphasize we are talking, as was the Supreme Court Employment Division vs. Smith, about genuinely neutral laws. That is laws that are not simply framed in neutral language, but are really trying to promote a general purpose because sometimes and the Supreme Court, even after Employment Division vs. Smith decided cases like this sometimes was look neutral on their face, but they clearly have a pernicious purpose. Namely, they are meant to persecute a particular group. So there was a notorious case that made it to the Supreme Court in which a Florida town banned animal sacrifices as part of an animal welfare ordinance. Looks neutral on its face, right? 

Concern for animal welfare. But the reality right from the legislative history was very clear. The town council, this Florida, after all, they only got interested in animal welfare when a bunch of members of this sort of I think it was Cuban or Latin American religious sect moved into town. And as part of the religious practices of this sect, they sacrifice animals. 

All of a sudden, the town council decided it was really important to do something about animal sacrifice. And so the Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional because it only purported to be neutral. In fact, it wasn’t neutral. It was basically designed to drive this particular religious group out of the south. So nothing I’m saying is meant to take issue with that. I think the government shouldn’t be in the business of passing laws whose purpose is to persecute particular, particularly religious groups. That is a requirement, I think, of religious toleration. 

So if the court’s not going to budge and reference here to stay. What should the next political objective for secularists who want to establish equality between what we just and not just people in the society be? 

That’s a that’s a very interesting question. One possibility. There’s only one arena in which secular claims of conscience have been recognized as having equal legal standing with religious claims of conscience. And that is with respect to conscientious objection to military service that was established during the Vietnam War. So now here’s here’s the crucial thing about it. It was established as a matter of statutory interpretation, not constitutional law. The Supreme Court interpreted the Selective Service Registration Act to encompass non-religious, conscientious objection, despite the fact that the Selective Service Registration Act nations belief in God. Now, take that as the as the bottle here, I suppose, you know, a very a very secular, friendly court somewhere. Not the current U.S. Supreme Court, but a very secular friendly court somewhere could interpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act very broadly to encompass all conscientious objections, not simply those that are in some narrow sense religious. And you know, the reason the Vietnam era Supreme Court framed the decision to recognize non-religious, conscientious objection to military service as a matter of statutory interpretation. If they didn’t want to constitutionalized that right. Some scholars have argued they they should constitutionalize the inequality of secular conscience and religious conscience. The problem is the language of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment isn’t too friendly to that. That’s right. But might some the ambitious court decide to read the Religious Freedom Restoration Act broadly the way the earlier Supreme Court read the Selective Service Registration Act’s provision and conscientious objection broadly? Yes, it’s a possibility. We’d have to have a real sea change in that in the political culture of the United States. I think for a court to be willing to to go down that route. 

Right. I mean, there any very young you can’t get a very young point of inquiry. 

Listeners out there who are thinking they might like to be judges when they grow up should listen carefully to the say that, yes, it’s going to is going to fall to the next generation. 

And so I really think, you know, we won’t get to this point until something similar happens with. Non religious belief in the public sphere is similar to what’s happened to the perception of, you know, gay men and women. I mean, it was a total transformation in the last 20 years in terms of acceptance, recognition and and so on. That hasn’t yet happened with respect to non-religious, openly and aggressively non-religious people. I mean, there are many religious people who have short believe that non-religious people don’t even have conscience. So we have a ways to to go on. I don’t think it’s easy to miss that because, you know, if you’re in a place like New York, as you are Chicago as I am, where you hang around in universities, you know that the religious believers are the bright orange nuns outside parts of Brooklyn. 

Of course, they take out. 

You know, overall, these are secular places. Right. A lot of the major institutions in American society are fairly secular or comfortable with secular. Right. The business factor varies. But but certainly the universities are overwhelmingly secular. But it’s not true in the culture at large or the culture in large school has some huge portion of the population, 60 or 70 percent, maybe higher. Depends on which survey you look at. Who would never vote for an atheist? That’s pretty wild. That’s pretty wild. More than will now vote for gays and Muslims and wealth for atheists. 

So atheists need something like, you know, it’s a sitcom that presents the most deadly and safe that the will and grace of a fearsome. 

Exactly. The witling faces. That’s right. I mean, I think one can’t underestimate the role. 

Well, I know regular media played in in changing, you know, hateful attitudes about gays. 

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for coming on the program. 

Thank you very much for having me. And appreciate it. 

This has been a point of inquiry. You can follow us on Twitter at point of inquiry. Tune in next week. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.