The Nightmare Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Now Being Used To Excuse Child Labor

hobby-lobby-storefrontThe Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is currently undergoing a criminal investigation to see whether “child labor” can officially be added to the list of their offenses along with racism, misogyny, and general creepiness. But this week, a judge gave a church member a “Get Out of Testifying Against Your Church Free” card. Vergel Steed is recused from having to give the names of FLDS church leaders, and from explaining any details of how the church hierarchy is organized. And the basis for his ability to say, “No, thank you, please,” to participation in an investigation of the abuse of children is based on none other than the Hobby Lobby court ruling. Please excuse me for a moment while I apply this wall vigorously to my forehead.

The investigation dates to 2012, at which time a number of FLDS children and possibly adults were made to harvest pecans at a ranch in Utah without pay. So not just child labor, but child slave labor! Terrific. Steed’s testimony would help the Labor Department get to the bottom of the situation; or rather, the top, since it’s whoever was in charge of the decision to put a bunch of kids to mandatory work on a pecan farm. But Judge David Sam ruled that Steed can take a pass on revealing any information about how the church operates, because on the basis of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, doing so would be an undue burden on his religious beliefs. (Note: if your religious beliefs preclude talking about your church, but are A-OK with child labor, you don’t have religious beliefs. You have cult beliefs.)

Per Judge Sam, this is all right, since the Labor Department can theoretically get the information elsewhere, just like women whose employers give them the middle finger can theoretically get birth control elsewhere. Sam suggests they can talk to the pecan ranch company and its managers. Since the ranch is owned and operated by other FLDS members, I’m sure there’s no possible way they’ll also appeal to the Hobby Lobby ruling and kick the child-labor investigation can even further down the road!

For those of us who have been saying all along that Hobby Lobby was going to have some unintended and unpleasant consequences, the words “We told you so” don’t even have their usual cheery ring. It doesn’t feel that great to be right when being right means an indefinitely dragged-out investigation into the mistreatment of children. And since certain parties who are pretty happy with the Hobby Lobby ruling have also talked about what a cool idea it would be to put young children to work (I’m looking at you, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh), I’m not sure they would concede that the fall-out from the Hobby Lobby ruling is that much of a problem to begin with. But as for me, I still prefer my government like I prefer my coffee: untainted by the dangerous and oppressive religious beliefs of others.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)

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