July 28, 2014

Ontario Wine Country

I spent much of Friday and Saturday in Ontario sampling the products of the many wineries there. I had never been to Ontario before, and I didn’t have much of a strategy other than getting a sense of what the region had to offer. Because my son is a winemaker in the Finger Lakes, a region that produces particularly notable whites, I was naturally interested in what white wines I might find in Canada. I was also interested in tasting ice wines. much of the world’s production of which comes from Ontario.

August Deimel, the winemaker at Keuka Spring Vineyards, suggested three of the wineries I visited. I began my tasting at one of these, Stratus Vineyards, in Niagara-on-the-Lake. A tasting of four wines at Stratus cost $10, but I was assured that the experience would be worth it. The tasting room was in a somewhat austere LEED certified building that was more attractive inside than out. I went for the whites and the ice wine. (I didn’t make any notes, so this post may seem sketchy to the serious wine lover.) The standout here was the ice wine, which was a blend of several grape varieties. Not having visited other wineries, I was reluctant to buy anything at Stratus, but I thought I might come back for the ice wine. The woman who served me was very helpful and knowledgeable—this was uniformly the case at all the wineries I visited—and she suggested that, since I was particularly interested in Rieslings, I should visit the nearby Between the Lines Winery. (She also discouraged me from visiting another winery I had selected purely on location—too corporate, she advised.)

Between the Lines has an unprepossessing and rather claustrophobic tasting room. I was served by a woman recently arrived from Stuttgart, Germany, but she had no trouble representing the winery’s products. I tasted the Riesling, but fell in love with the 2013 Gewuerztraminer. (According to Wikipedia, Gewuerztraminer is the French spelling of the more familiar Gewürztraminer.) The Gewuerztraminer was my first purchase of the day. Between the Lines also had a couple of ice wines. I tasted the 2013 Vidal, which was fine but much less interesting than what I had found at Stratus.

There wasn’t much time left on Friday for winery hopping, so I selected as the final destination of the day Château des Charmes, another Niagara-on-the-Lake winery, which was on the way back to Niagara Falls. I made the selection with the help of “Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide,” an invaluable booklet obtained from one of the Ontario information stations scattered about. I also got an Ontario map there, but the seven-panel fold-out map in the guide was more than adequate for the wine tourist. I was more charmed by the buildings and grounds at Château des Charmes than the wines, but it was getting to the end of the day. The Vidal ice wine was tasty, but not as much so as the Stratus offering.

On Saturday, I abandoned the picture-perfect Niagra-on-the-Lake region for points west. The first stop was the Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, another destination recommended by my son. Perhaps I wasn’t paying close attention, but I discovered the tasting room only after visiting two other buildings on the property. And the property is extensive—there are vines as far as the eye can see. The winery offers both conventional tours and tours via Segway, but these have to be arranged in advance. (I want to try out a Segway someday.) I tasted a 2012 Riesling here, but I found a Riesling to buy in a 2008 Reserve Riesling. (Who knew a 2008 Riesling would be a great wine in 2014!) The Riesling ice wine was fine, but the Stratus blend remained my favorite.

Next on the list was another family recommendation, Malivoire Wine Company. Before I even entered the winery, I found a cheesemonger on the property selling mostly locally produced cheeses. I came away with chunks of a maple syrup cheddar and caramelized onion cheddar. (How could one pass up a cheese with maple syrup in Canada?) The main attraction here was really the winery itself, described in the “Travel Guide” as the “first-in-Ontario gravity-flow winery” in “an elaborately recycled Quonset hut built in 1998.” The place had a cave-like quality quite unlike, say, Stratus or Château des Charmes. From the tasting room, one could look up and see several levels of tanks. I thought the gravity-flow production was primarily an energy-saving device, but it was explained to me that the big advantage of the system was that, by eliminating pumps, less oxygen is introduced into the juice/wine. August will have to explain to me why this is a good thing. I tasted several wines in the Quonset hut, including a Grenache—I had only before tasted rosé made from this grape—and a red ice wine whose composition I don’t remember.

I had time to visit one last winery, and the server at Malivoire suggested the nearby Kew Vineyards. Winemaking is relatively new there, and there is no “Travel Guide” listing. Riesling grapes were first planted on the property in 1975, however. Visitors enter a mid-nineteenth-century house that has been renovated for wine selling, while retaining the charm of the original. Kew, which is very much a family operation, offers a very different tasting room experience. There is no conventional tasting room, at least not one with the usual bar. I was invited to sit inside or outside and have wine brought to me. I choose to go outside on a patio with a lovely view of rows and rows of grape vines. Kew was different in other ways as well. No ice wine was available, but I tasted two sparkling wines—think brut Champagne—and a white blend whose composition I don’t recall. For an extra fee, I could have had a cheese plate to accompany the wine, but it was too close to lunch time, and I wanted something more substantial for the midday meal. Drinking bubbly with cheese on the Kew patio and looking out on the vineyard would surely make for a pleasant afternoon.

As it turned out, there wasn’t time after lunch to return to Stratus for ice wine, but I wished that that had been possible. It was time to return to the U.S. and the time-consuming border station. The two wines I bought on the trip can be seen below. (Click on the image for a larger view.) I’ll have to plan another trip to Ontario.

Wines purchased in Ontario

July 19, 2014


I get information concerning where visitors to my blog are located. Not surprisingly, more visitors are from the United States than from anywhere else. Because many of my posts involve Anglicanism, I might have expected that lots of visitors would be from Canada and the U.K. Not so.

Looking at visitors since my blog premiered in 2002, the top sources of traffic other than the U.S. have been China, Ukraine, Russia, U.K., France, Germany, Poland, Canada, and Sweden. It was 4½ years before I wrote a church-related post, so Anglicans may not have contributed significantly to the numbers in the early years. Visitors from China, Ukraine, and Russia were responsible for 30% as many page views as were U.S. visitors. Go figure. Corresponding numbers for the U.K. and Canada were 4.6% and 1.9%, respectively.

Considering visitors in only the last month, the top traffic sources have been the U.S., France, Ukraine, Taiwan, Russia, China, Turkey, Germany, U.K., and Poland. France contributed 29.7% as many page views as did U.S. visitors. Who knows what the French were interested in! I am disappointed that few members of the Church of England seem to be reading Lionel Deimel’s Web Log. The U.K. accounted for only 3.8% as many page views as did the U.S. My U.K. audience seems to be decreasing. Sigh! I don’t know anything about Canadian visitors, but they viewed fewer pages than did the Poles.

Of course, all these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. No doubt, many find my blog without finding anything they were looking for. I have serious doubts that I have many fans in Ukraine.

July 18, 2014


Since September 11, 2001, any instance of violence we don’t like is called terrorism. This practice is manipulative, but it has become the 21st century’s propaganda weapon of choice. This unfortunate trend seems to have been started by the United States, but the technique has been adopted by friends and foes alike.

In Syria, for example, we viewed the insurgents, even when we didn’t like all of them, as revolutionaries or freedom-fighters. The Syrian government, however, repeated called the fighters terrorists. The U.S. government saw this charge as ridiculous, but it was merely reaping the rhetorical harvest of the propaganda seeds it had sown.

I write this now because some people in and out of government are calling the downing of a commercial airliner over Ukraine an act of terrorism. To begin with, the circumstances of the disaster are not yet clear, so the conclusion—any conclusion—is premature. More significantly, however, it is unlikely that anyone had a motive to bring down the plane. The most likely explanation is that Russians or pro-Russian rebels downed the aircraft with a Russian missile, having mistaken it for a Ukrainian military transport. That is, the incident is linkly collateral damage resulting from ongoing warfare.

“Terrorism” has become an epithet used without careful thinking and without integrity. It’s time to become more careful in our use of the term

July 14, 2014

Nuance Power PDF Advanced Bug Fixed

The bug I discovered after I installed Nuance Power PDF Advanced on my computer appears to have been fixed.  I reported in an earlier post that PDF files created by the new software often, though not always, put a watermark on pages indicated that the file was produced by a trial version of the program, even though the program was registered and activated.

I have been documenting my interaction with the technical support people at Nuance in my original post. Readers of that post who have not been reading my updates but who are interested in my experience may want to return to that post and read about my experience.

I am inclined to believe that Power PDF Advanced is an excellent program for creating and manipulating PDF files, but I have not systematically examined all its features. Certainly, the software embodies some design decisions different from those I would have made. In any case, Nuance offers a free trial, as well as a money-back guarantee.

July 13, 2014

The South Carolina Amnesia

A severe outbreak of amnesia has struck the southeastern portion of South Carolina. Epidemiologists have observed that the disorder seems to have affected only former Episcopalians who followed deposed bishop Mark Lawrence out of The Episcopal Church. Continuing Episcopalians are apparently unaffected, and it is unclear whether all erstwhile Episcopalians are vulnerable to the spreading epidemic. The rate of affliction among diocesan and parish leaders, however, is virtually 100 percent.

Evidence of the epidemic is found exclusively in the town of St. George, South Carolina. In particular, the outbreak is observable in the Dorchester County Courthouse, specifically, in the courtroom in which Judge Diane S. Goodstein is presiding over the trial brought against South Carolina Episcopalians by the aforementioned deposed bishop and the congregations that departed The Episcopal Church with him.

Observers have noted that witnesses called by the plaintiffs—clergy and lay leaders of congregations claiming to have left The Episcopal Church and taken real and personal parish property with them—have apparently forgotten that their parishes were once part of the general church and not simply a part of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Various witnesses, for example, have claimed that “Episcopal” in parish names and on identifying signs did not refer to The Episcopal Church, but only to the fact that their parishes were under the supervision of a bishop. Moreover, these witnesses have forgotten that, in the very recent past and for some time previous, they had exhibited extreme and righteous hostility toward The Episcopal Church because they believed that the church had departed from biblical truth, of which they were in exclusive possession.

The South Carolina amnesia presents with concomitant paranoia. Victims of the affliction have testified that they engaged in various legal maneuvers to “protect” their parishes from the depredations of The Episcopal Church, yet they offer no justification for their fear other than what they view as the undeserved persecution of the former Bishop of South Carolina.

Although there is some disagreement regarding the etiology of the South Carolina epidemic, the consensus epidemiological opinion is that the observed aberrant behavior is the result of the realization that acknowledging that the dispute between Episcopalians and former Episcopalians is theological in nature will result in the civil courts recusing themselves from jurisdiction and deferring to the leadership of The Episcopal Church to resolve the property issues. Thus, the afflicted victims have been driven to the delusional notion that what is at issue is purely a matter of secular property law.

There is some question as to whether Judge Goodstein is also a victim of the epidemic, as she has seemingly forgotten that there might be a more obvious reason for the behavior of the witnesses and that that reason might involve considerations of theology. Perhaps she has only forgotten that judges are supposed to be impartial.

Epidemiologists are hopeful that the South Carolina epidemic will be contained when the defense is allowed to present its case in Judge Goodstein’s courtroom. Not all the observers of the epidemic are so sanguine as to the ultimate outcome, however.

July 7, 2014

Quinn Out as Canon, In as Interim Cathedral Dean

I was surprised to see this listing in the new directory from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh:

Apparently, as of July 1, 2014, the Rev. Canon Scott Quinn is no longer Canon to the Ordinary, and the Rev. Tim Hushion, Jr., is no longer Priest-in-Charge at Trinity Cathedral. Quinn, in addition to his long-time position as Rector at Church of the Nativity in Crafton, Pennsylvania, is now Interim Dean of Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral.

To date, there appears to have been no notification by the diocese of this personnel change, not even to Pittsburgh clergy. Yesterday, the cathedral posted a welcome note on its Facebook page, but, as of today, there is no mention of Quinn on the cathedral’s Web site, and Hushion is still listed as Priest-in-Charge.

The health of Trinity Cathedral has been of grave concern to the people of the diocese, particularly in light of the cathedral’s near loss to the schismatic Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Why is this change seemingly being made under the radar? Personnel changes, particularly one so important, deserve to put publicized. Alas, communication from the diocese continues to be desultory.

The Quinn appointment is particularly interesting from a number of points of view. There has been much dissatisfaction with the fact that the Pittsburgh diocese, which is facing financial difficulties, has been supporting three canons. There has also been dissatisfaction among progressives that all three canons are conservative. Quinn’s performance as Canon to the Ordinary has not always been considered stellar. The move to the cathedral looks like an acknowledgement of the fact. Quinn has spent virtually his entire career in Crafton, something of a suburban backwater. He is hardly an obvious pick for a struggling urban parish.

Bob Duncan had installed the Rev. Cathy Brall at Trinity, probably because he thought she could be coerced into following his lead. He gave her the title of Provost, however, rather than the more conventional title of Dean, a move widely considered a slight. Even after Duncan’s departure, the succession of bishops in Pittsburgh failed to undo the slight. And, particularly after the cathedral dumped its untenable two-diocese experiment, it was assumed that Trinity could not support a dean with a track record suggesting that he or she could make Trinity a going concern. Does the fact that Trinity now has an interim dean mean that it will be looking for a permanent dean, or is the change just about finding a place for Quinn?

Brall, of course, was removed from the cathedral to become Canon Missioner for the diocese. Will she also take on some of the duties of which Scott Quinn has now been relieved?

Stay tuned.

July 4, 2014

Pittsburgh Bishop OKs Priests Officiating at Same-Sex Marriages

Rings on rainbow background
After some delay—see “Bishop Answers Questions, Explains Same-Sex Marriage Delay”—Dorsey McConnell, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, wrote a letter yesterday, July 3, 2014, explaining that priests in the diocese may now officiate at same-sex weddings. His earlier permission to use the Provisional Rite for the Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant authorized by the 2012 General Convention via Resolution A049 has been modified in light of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania resulting from a recent court decision. (The bishop’s revised guidelines are here.)

What held up Bishop McConnell’s pronouncement about same-sex marriage was his concerns—or his chancellor’s concerns—about the legality and canonicality of allowing Pittsburgh priests to marry same-sex couples in church. I didn’t quite understand what the problem or problems were when Andy Roman, the diocesan chancellor, explained the delay at the June meeting of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. Everything became clear, however, in the letter from the chancellor that the bishop released along with his letter and guidelines.

The chancellor offered the bishop answers to three questions (quoting from the aforementioned letter):
  1. What is the source of the civil law authority granted to priests of the Diocese to solemnize a marriage for civil law purposes, and does that source require the marriage to be solemnized using the rite of Holy Matrimony contained in the Book of Common Prayer?
  2. Would the use of the Provisional Rite, “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” without modification, in conjunction with execution of the civil law marriage certificate by the priest, serve to solemnize the marriage of a same-sex couple for civil law purposes in Pennsylvania?
  3. If you as Bishop Diocesan authorize priests of the Diocese to use their civil law authority to solemnize same-sex marriages for civil law purposes using the Provisional Rite, are you upholding the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church?
Notice that answers to these questions turn both on canon law and civil law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The answers, then, cannot be universal for Episcopal Church dioceses. Nonetheless, I do think Andy Roman’s analysis is of general interest.

As it happens, Pennsylvania law provides two descriptions of who can perform a marriage and does not specify the exact form of the ceremony. A “general rule” allows “a minister, priest or rabbi of a regularly established church or congregation” to do the job. (What about imams? Who knows.) A separate provision provides that
Every religious society, religious institution or religious organization in this Commonwealth may join persons together in marriage when at least one of the persons is a member of the society, institution or organization, according to the rules and customs of the society, institution or organization.
Perhaps this second provision exists to make it easier from a religious institution to refuse to perform a marriage. If it were the only source of authority for performing a civil same-sex marriage, it would be problematic for Episcopalians, as both the prayer book and Canon I.18 “define Holy Matrimony as between ‘a man and a woman.’” Given the general rule, however, we can forget about this latter provision. An Episcopal priest can perform a same-sex marriage, but it cannot be Holy Matrimony as The Episcopal Church now defines it.

The chancellor’s answer to the second question is lengthy—Andy Roman is very thorough—but he concludes that the use of the provisional rite, without modification, and a marriage license are  pretty much all a priest needs to satisfy both canon and civil law with respect to a (civil) same-sex marriage.

The third question is really whether Bishop McConnell will get into trouble with the church for allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in Pittsburgh churches. This seems a reasonable concern. Resolution A049 clearly anticipated the use of the provisional rite in states where same-sex marriage is legal, and the chancellor concludes, without too much trouble, that the bishop will be on solid ground if he approves same-sex weddings in Episcopal churches.

So, based on the advice of his chancellor, Bishop McConnell will allow diocesan priests to use the provisional rite. The couple, however, must have earlier been married in a civil ceremony or must have a valid marriage license. The provisional rite must be used without modification, except as provided in it own rubrics.

A ceremony following the guidelines provided by Bishop McConnell, then, will certainly effect the marriage of two women or two men. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States government will consider them married. (Louisiana and some other states, not so much.) Technically, the church will not consider the couple married in the traditional sense. In practice, I doubt this will make much difference. The couple is blessed in the provisional rite, and that’s about the only benefit of substance a heterosexual couple gets out of a church wedding anyway.

The same-sex couple will not be pronounced—what should they be pronounced, anyway?—husband and wife or married or whatever. But the Pronouncement from the provisional rite should seem just fine:
Inasmuch as N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity in the presence of God and the Church, I now pronounce that they are bound to one another in a holy covenant,
as long as they both shall live. Amen.

July 3, 2014

Nuance Screws Up Big Time

I have been using PDF Converter Professional 8 from Nuance Communications, Inc., to create and modify PDF files. Functionally, the program is nearly equivalent to Adobe Acrobat, and the price was considerably more attractive. Recently, Nuance began advertising their latest PDF product, Power PDF Advanced, claiming that it is a significant advance over the earlier product. In large measure, PDF Converter Professional 8 was meeting my needs, but the new product did offer some capabilities that seemed like they might occasionally be useful. With some reservations, I decided to order the new software.

Power PDF Advanced retail package
I chose to receive the software on CD, and I was pleased that it arrived quickly via UPS. When I installed the software, I was asked if I wanted to remove PDF Converter Professional 8. With at least a touch of anxiety, I answered that I did. The installation did not go smoothly, and I found my myself having to kill certain running processes manually to complete the process successfully. (Installation was not for the computer novice. Maybe that’s why “Advanced” is part of the program’s name.)

In due time, the program was installed and, seemingly, registered and activated. It appeared to be working fine, though I was having trouble locating functions I regularly used in PDF Converter Professional 8. Then I used Power PDF Advanced to change document properties of a PDF file produced by Word 2010. I was shocked to discover that the file now contained a watermark indicating that it had been produced by a trial version of the software. My immediate thought was that activation had not been done properly, but the About window showed my name and product serial number. I quickly realized that I did not know what the problem was. Moreover, the time was about 7:45 PM, and Nuance technical support closed up shop at 8:00 PM.

I made a telephone call to Nuance in the hope of solving my problem before the Fourth of July holiday and weekend. Thinking that my problem was an activation problem, I pressed the appropriate buttons on my telephone to indicate that to the phone system. Instead of technical support, I reached customer support. That office was closed, but I did get to talk to a real person. I described my problem and was told that it was a known problem. The real person suggested I call the technical support number—that was the actual number I did call—and explained that I should press “1,” rather than “2” at the initial prompt. I did that, and in fact reached someone in technical support.

The technical support person—for convenience, I’ll call him Bob—was also aware of the problem. He first checked registration and activation. Apparently, the product was not properly registered or activated, but Bob was able to fix this once I gave him the product’s serial number. This did not fix my problem, however. We proceeded to apply a workaround intended to fix the problem. It didn’t work.  Forty-five minutes later, having used the Windows Task Manager a couple of times  and rebooted the computer, the problem remained.

I suggested that a product should never have been let out the door with a problem like the one I was encountering; Power PDF Advanced is unusable. I asked, “Do you test your software? Does technical support have to deal with this problem with every user?” Bob assured that not everyone had the problem and that the software people were working on a fix. Apparently, however, Nuance has no idea what is causing the problem. I was asked to download the Microsoft Process Monitor and upload a log file to Nuance. I countered that I should be paid for debugging their software.

Stay tuned. I’ll report how this turns out. Meanwhile, if you’re considering buying Power PDF Advanced, I’d hold off for now.

Update, 7/4/2014, 9:10 AM. After I wrote the above, I thought that perhaps the problem had gone away. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The offending watermark appears in some circumstances but not in others. I have not figured out which is which.

Update, 7/4/2014, 11:45 AM. I downloaded Process Monitor and started it, reproduced the problem, stopped the Process Monitor, saved the log file, compressed the log file, renamed it, uploaded it to an ftp site, and sent e-mail to Nuance. We’ll see what happens next. This isn’t exactly how I meant to spend Independence Day.

Update, 7/4/2014, 12:37 PM. I received a request from Nuance a little while ago for information about my system from the System Information application. That has now been sent. Back to waiting for a fix. Actually, I have to be impressed that someone is working on my problem on July 4.

Update, 7/7/2014, 12:51 PM. Nuance sent e-mail saying they are still working on the problem and asking if I had any more information. I tried creating PDF files various ways with the software and did not see the offending watermark. I wrote back
I now seem unable to reproduce the problem. I tried creating PDF files from various sources. In particular, using the Nuance Create PDF Word Addin does not yield a document with the offending watermark. I am reluctant to conclude that the problem has gone away. What has changed? Any ideas?
Update, 7/8/2014, 2:26 PM. I received another message like the last one: “We are continuing to work on your issue. If you have more information, update your question here:” (This whole sentence was a link.) Nuance also sent a Word file explaining how to remove a Trial watermark. This document ended with this depressing piece of information: “Unfortunately, this is a page by page process, so to clean up a large document you have to do this on every page to clean up an entire document.” Happily, I have not created any long documents with the offending watermark.

Update, 7/11/2014, 4:00 PM. I haven’t heard anything more from Nuance. After I rebooted my computer today, however, I saw a window requesting that I register the software. When I logged into the Nuance site, I found that it already listed my software as registered. (Note that I redacted the serial numbers in the image using a feature of Power PDF Advanced.) Anyway, I reported the anomaly to Nuance.

Update, 7/14/2014, 9:18 AM. Although I thought that the watermark problem might have gone away, it showed up on a page printed from Chrome this morning. I created a PDF file using the Print This button at the bottom of this page. (You can see the resulting file here.) I wrote Nuance about this. I haven’t heard from Nuance since 7/6.

Update, 7/14/2014, 9:32 AM. Just after I wrote Nuance, a popup window informed me of an update to Power PDF Advanced. I installed the hotfix and tried to recreate the problem noted above. The watermark did not appear. I have now written Nuance to ask if the hotfix is intended as a total fix for the problem.

Update, 7/14/2014, 11:09 AM. I received e-mail from Nuance stating that the hotfix is supposed to resolve the problem of the errant watermarks. Nuance has closed the incident. From all I can tell, the bug in Nuance Power PDF Advanced has indeed been fixed, eleven days after I reported it. Clearly, however, I was not the first to notice the problem, so I don’t know just how long it took Nuance to track down and fix the bug.

July 1, 2014

Some Thoughts in Light of the Hobby Lobby Opinion

The Hobby Lobby decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court on June 30, 2014, has filled my head with reflections on what I consider a terrible decision by the high court. This is a blog, however, not a book, so what follows can only begin to express what I want to say about the court’s opinion.
As might have been expected from our very conservative Supreme Court, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was yesterday decided in favor of Hobby Lobby by a vote of—you guessed it—5 to 4. (The decision is here.)

The effect of the decision is to grant a family-owned, for-profit corporation an exception from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide all forms of approved birth control to its employees at no cost. The owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores, objected to providing certain kinds of birth control (such as IUDs) because they believe they cause abortions. (The scientific community does not agree with this analysis, by the way.) Members of the Green family, who own Hobby Lobby, are conservative Christians who claimed that their religious freedom was being infringed by the ACA requirement.

The Hobby Lobby decision is not, as some would have it, a victory for freedom of religion. It is, instead, another victory for a malignant individualism that is indifferent, or even hostile, to any sense of community or common good, an individualism that jealously guards its own religious practice while failing to consider the religious sensibilities of others. Rather than settling questions raised by the ACA, the Hobby Lobby opinion threatens to encourage ever more litigation harmful to the body politic. If there is anything positive to be said for the outcome of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it is perhaps that the decision at least calls attention to bad political decisions of the past whose effects require mitigation.

The Affordable Care Act was intended to make medical care available to all Americans at a reasonable cost. Moreover, it was designed to deliver certain basic medical services, such as immunizations and birth control, at no marginal cost and little effort to assure that such services are utilized. To accomplish these goals—goals that have eluded us for decades—certain burdens have been imposed on individuals and companies, but burdens that seem slight compared with the effects of taxes, environmental regulations, and the like.

The Green family claimed that their religious freedom was being infringed by having to fund, for example, IUDs for their employees, even though they are opposed to abortion for religious reasons. (Somehow it wasn’t considered important that the medical community does not believe that IUDs cause abortions and that IUDs are often inserted for medical reasons other than birth control.)

To the average citizen who pays taxes, registers an automobile, obeys traffic signals, and recycles trash, the Green family claim is ridiculous on the face of it. When a for-profit company does business in the public square, it necessarily has to conduct its business by society’s rules. Thus, for example, a hotel is not allowed to discriminate against potential guests on the basis of their race. As a corporation, various benefits—limited liability and tax advantages—accrue to Hobby Lobby, and society has a right to expect compliance with reasonable restrictions in return. Are not the Greens asking to be treated like individuals when it suits them and as a corporation when that is more convenient? (More on that below.) One might observe that
  1.  The medical benefits that the Greens do not want to provide are really compensation for Hobby Lobby workers. Hobby Lobby would be laughed out of court if they did not provide birth control and, at the same time, said that their employees could not obtain birth control with their own earnings. What is the difference?
  2. The Greens asked the court to allow them to impose their own (frankly idiosyncratic) religious views on their employees, many of whom, we may reasonably assume, have very different religious opinions. No doubt, many of those employees see birth control less as a right than as an imperitive for the preservation of their own and the earth’s resources.
  3. Hobby Lobby exists to earn money. Irrespective of the fact that the Greens are generous with their earnings. Hobby Lobby is not a church or a church-related organization. Their claim on an ACA exemption would be more credible were it a non-profit, which it has not chosen to be. (But see below.)
  4. The Greens are not Hobby Lobby. They are members of a human family, as opposed to a corporation. (Again, see below.)
The syllabus of the Supreme Court opinion begins
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
This gets to the heart of the Supreme Court’s logic.  It goes something like this:
  1. Corporations are people.
  2. Closely held corporations can be owned by like-minded people, so that their sensibilities can be said to be those of the corporation.
  3. The ACA applies to the likes of Hobby Lobby, but, given the above, the birth control requirement imposes a burden on the corporation/owners.
  4. Although there is a compelling interest in providing birth control for all women, the government failed to show that requiring Hobby Lobby to do so was not the least restrictive means of achieving the government’s legitimate goals. 
Notice that, without the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—see the Wikipedia article and the text of the law—the case falls apart. RFRA was passed to right specific wrongs and was passed with virtually no opposition. It is clear, however, that it is a dangerous law that should be repealed or modified. When can one ever prove that a mechanism is the least restrictive possible method of achieving a certain goal? The possible mechanisms, after all, are infinite. Moreover, RFRA does not require a least restrictive solution consistent with other legitimate goals that might affect other parties (women employees of Hobby Lobby, for example).

RFRA, then, is too focused on the religion of individuals and too little on the wider concerns of society. RFRA should be amended or (preferably) repealed. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. Despite our supposed attachment to the separation of church and state, in practice, we are very solicitous of religion. One effect of this extreme solicitousness is that conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics have been able to make increasingly outrageous religious freedom claims that others, and particularly religious liberals, are reluctant to attack. Significantly, TV news shows showed religious conservatives cheering the Hobby Lobby opinion. Where were the liberal Christians demonstrating against it?

Then there is the corporation as people thing. Most of us know that this idea in intrinsically ridiculous. The notion of corporations as people (though not as “natural persons”) is actually a handy fiction that, without a lot of specific law, allows corporations to do certain things that people do—to enter into contracts, for example. Like RFRA, however, the corporations as people thing needs to be reined in. Our corporate law would be more sensible if corporations were treated as persons only in carefully enumerated situations. The notion that a corporation like Hobby Lobby can have religious beliefs is ridiculous and pernicious.

Some commentators have suggested that closely held corporations are more like church-affiliated institutions such as schools and hospitals, for which the Obama administration has gone out of its way to make accommodations. I’m not sure I see this argument. In any case, the whole mess with the ACA could be avoided by making no special provisions either for churches or church-related institutions. If a public university, say, goes into the general labor market for teachers, why should it not have to abide by the same labor laws as everyone else? If the institution argues that providing birth control violates its moral principles, how is this different from a pacifist’s refusing to pay income tax because it supports the military? Operating in society has obligations. Besides, as I suggested earlier, medical insurance provided by an employer is really pay that the employee has earned. Perhaps an exception could be made for a church if (1) it has taken a public stand that birth control (or some form of it) is immoral, and (2) the employee is a member of the church. In general, religious freedom is not a licence to impose your religious views on others.

The real solution, of course, is to have a single payer for health care. It has never made sense to link health care to employment. (Even unemployed people get sick.) Historically, employer health insurance has been provided as a way of attracting employees and because workers tend to be healthy and can have premiums deducted from their pay. Obamacare is what it is because Democrats needed the support of insurance companies—an unfortunate but, in a sense, successful strategy—and wanted the support of Republicans—which, of course, didn’t happen.

So, here is my to-do list for a better society:
  1. Implement a single-payer, unified health system.
  2. Repeal RFRA.
  3. Eliminate the treatment of corporations as people wherever possible (including considerations of free speech in political conversations).
  4. Reform non-profit laws.
I am not, of course, holding my breath.

Correcting the Record

The media have a big effect on how we view the world. Even when striving for objectivity—objectivity is a very slippery concept—bias can creep into a reporter’s work unbidden.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the subject of many news stories, and I found one of them particularly irritating. It was the lead story on the 3:01 PM EDT news summary on NPR.

The report began: “In a major victory for religious groups .” The decision, of course, was a victory only for some religious groups (and not a religious group to which I belong). I promptly wrote a note to the NPR Ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos. Here is the text of my e-mail message:

The latest hourly news summary began with a story of the Hobby Lobby decision with these words: “In a major victory for religious groups .” This is a biased point of view. The victory is one for right-wing Evangelicals. I can assure you that many, probably most, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Jews, UCC members, and members of other more liberal (and, in fact, mainstream) denominations believe that the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court is a disaster for the body politic. NPR needs to learn that “religion” does not mean simply “conservative Christian.” 

I have not yet received a reply.