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For A Business Built 'On Bended Knee,' Hobby Lobby Ruling Is A Boon


To the politics of religion and the Supreme Court now, and last week's decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The court cleared the way for closely held businesses, whose owners have religious objections to contraceptives, to cut coverage from their employee health plans. And since the court ruled, businesses have been doing just that. NPR's Wade Goodwyn spoke with a couple of company leaders about their decisions.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Alpha Testing is a geotechnical materials testing environmental firm. What that means is that if you're about to build a bridge or an office building or Cowboy Stadium, Alpha Testing makes certain your concrete and other building materials are going to hold up in the ground you're building on.

JIM HILLHOUSE: These are concrete test cylinders that were cast in the field when they were placing wet concrete. And so we took samples of that and put it in cylinders...

GOODWYN: Jim Hillhouse is the owner of Alpha Testing, which has offices in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. In addition to being a successful business owner, Hillhouse is also deeply religious and strives to bring his evangelical faith into all aspects of his life, including Alpha Testing.

HILLHOUSE: We started Alpha Testing on bended knee. We ask God to bless us. So we try to do that in everything that we do. We have a Christmas party each year. It's not a holiday party. We have annual and semiannual meetings. We start those with prayer, imploring God to be with us and a guide and direct us.

GOODWYN: Hillhouse doesn't drink, and so there's no alcohol at company functions, including the Christmas party. He says if other employees wanted to pay for it, he wouldn't object, but nobody has tested that proposition yet. But now as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, Hillhouse's faith is about to affect his employees in a much more direct way. While many of Alpha Testing staff are men - engineers and field testers - Hillhouse's administrative staff is comprised entirely of women. And the contraceptive choices available to them through their company health care plan are about to narrow significantly. Morning-after pills and IUDs are out.

HILLHOUSE: Any device or any chemical that destroys the embryo after it has been fertilized, that is when - to me, that's when life begins. And, you know, according to Psalms 139:13, we are wonderfully made and God is aware of that at the point we are in the womb.

GOODWYN: Forms of birth control that evangelicals consider abortion-like can include the NuvaRing, the IUD, Depo-Provera, the Morning-After Pill and even the birth control pill. When asked how he would react if one of his female employees complains about her more limited new coverage, Hillhouse is unmoved.

HILLHOUSE: Then that's your choice and you need to deal with that, but we're not going to support and pay for any device that we feel adversely affects that fertilized embryo. That's a deal breaker for us.

GOODWYN: In Charleston, West Virginia, car dealership owner Joey Holland agrees.

JOEY HOLLAND: I believe the Bible has taught me that I don't really own Joe Holland Chevrolet. It won't go with me as I pass through this life. I do believe that I have been called to this business as a marketplace minister. This is a mission field opportunity for me. I don't feel I'm called into full-time ministry, but I do believe that this is a ministry that He has given to me.

GOODWYN: Holland called a meeting of all his female employees and explained his position.

HOLLAND: And none of them had any objections. And I know that you would probably be like some people and say, well, they're your employees, how are they going to object in front of you? You sign their paychecks. But we really do have the kind of relationship with our employees here that they would've been - I would not have had any problem. There would have been no repercussions had anybody stepped up, raised their hand and said, you know, I just don't think that's fair.

GOODWYN: For Jim Hillhouse in Dallas, dealing with potential employee discontent is not unlike dealing with a rebellious teenager. If you live in my house...

HILLHOUSE: You go by my rules. You don't have to live here. You know, we're not the only game in town. There's a lot of other employers out there that you can go to. But we feel if we're paying for it, we have a say in how those dollars are used.

GOODWYN: And Hillhouse would be happy to see this religious privilege extended to every owner of every business, even to CEOs of large publicly held companies.

HILLHOUSE: To me, whether you're closely held, private - however you're held, it doesn't matter. It's an issue that you as a person - if you're in control, you've got to make that decision where you come down morally.

GOODWYN: For Jim Hillhouse and Joe Holland, the larger the body of Americans serving Christ, the better the country will be. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.
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