Getting Over My Giant Failure Complex

It’s a little embarrassing how many times I’ve written this to you, how many ways I’ve slid references to my giant failure complex into blog posts without really addressing it. I’ve made bold claims that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as a failure and start loving the life I’m currently living in a dozen half-hearted ways, but so far I’m still just rocking back and forth on life’s teeter totter: At the top, I am so ridiculously relieved that I am working (because others I love aren’t) and that I have a healthy work-life balance and that my job is mostly fun and engaging, but when the see-saw rocks downward I remember that I thought I would be doing something different.

The “L” word still makes me feel like a loser.

I know in my heart that I am where I need to be, but I have to remind myself all the time that this life I’m living is something to celebrate, not something to mourn. Sometimes I have to say it to friends and have them say it back to me, to tell me it’s okay.  I know that I’m not the only one, but I often feel alone with this. I fold this idea into so much of my blogging because, while this blog is many things to me and hopefully a few things to you, its chief purpose right now is to remind me that life is beautiful and fun and it’s okay to just be who you are I am right now.

I loved law school. I’m not one to say “Oh, it was so hard and I’m so glad it is over,” and I’ve never regretted attending. It was one of the best things I’ve ever committed to doing. It made me smarter and more attentive and a better person. Even now, while I’m not practicing, I still did all of the things to be a licensed attorney and I can go back to being a “real” lawyer whenever I want to, if I ever really want to.

I’m getting tired of trying so hard to convince myself that I am awesome and that I am making a real difference by working hard for my country.  I am already doing these things and it’s become a bit of a broken record for me (and I’m sure not all that interesting for you, my friends). I’d like for this to become a non-issue for me, but it may be a few more months or years before I can really settle into owning my own life and living it for myself. I struggle to surpass expectations that don’t actually exist.

But I think for recovering people-pleasers and perfectionists like me, we often feel like posers in our late twenties. We’re wearing the hats and carrying big titles on freshly minted business cards but are we really good enough to hold this much responsibility? Friends from school are carrying the lives and hopes and dreams of two, or three, or four children already and I can’t imagine ever being qualified for such a hard and important job. Do you ever really feel like you know how to be a mother, a manager, a professor or scholar, or do you just jump in, throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks? I’m always afraid that someone will look over and see that I’m really not as awesome as everyone thinks.  I wonder, if they knew how much television I watched in the evenings, and how rarely I finish the books I’m always buying, if they would still want me to mentor their students, or file their taxes, or write their reports.

I paid real cash monies to register for a faith and writing conference in Grand Rapids in April. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this conference feeling that I’m not qualified to be there. I don’t want to awkwardly shift on my feet or avoid meeting interesting people because when they say “Oh, I write a blog about faith and life and my book is being published in October,” and then ask about me, I don’t have a good enough answer. I want to do whatever it takes before I pick up my rental car and drive two hours and forty-seven minutes around the bottom of Lake Michigan so that, when I step out of my car and into the conference, I believe I am a “real” writer and I believe that I am qualified to engage, network, discuss, and struggle with them to create beautiful sentences.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20, is the first of fifty days before my conference begins. This may be a rough-and-tumble sort of commitment, but I’ll be doing “the things that writers do” for each of these fifty days so that I can step into the Grand Rapids community with a few pages I can be proud of, with a project I can discuss, or at the very least with the confidence that I certainly belong at the table. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m starting this effort off with a Story Sessions writing boot camp and I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want this to journey to include. I have a working list, but before I put it out into the internet world I wanted to hear from you: what do you recommend? What makes you feel like a “real” writer, or a “real” professional, or a “real” mom, instead of just a poser? What gives you confidence in your calling?  

Status Update: Hobby Lobby, Corporations, and Religious Expression

In January of this year, I wrote in a moment of frustration that my newsfeed was full of America Hates Christians Because: Hobby Lobby posts, and articulated my position that the Constitution doesn’t say you get to do whatever you want to and don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.

In comments on the blog and on other social media sites, we discussed the difference between a person – who eats and sleeps and feels and thinks and believes – and a company/corporation, which is a legal entity that isn’t necessarily able to eat or sleep or feel or think or believe in all contexts.  And I explained that people have religious beliefs and religious expressions, but that I wasn’t so sure that companies do and if they did, I wasn’t sure how they would be evaluated by the court system.  I believe it is important to tell whole stories, and this story has changed a bit over the last ten months, so I am here to give you a little more information. 

Since I published that post, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that for-profit corporations can be “persons” who exercise religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.  (See page 26 of the opinion.)  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals went the other way on a similar case brought by Conestoga Wood Specialties, a woodworking company owned by a Mennonite family, concluding that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.”  (See the entire opinion here.)

Thus, we’re headed for the Supreme Court to answer the question.  After reading some legal scholarship on the issue, I’m a bit more convinced that this could work – that, at least academically, a for-profit corporation could assert a free exercise claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  In the context of corporate rights and freedoms, I agree that it seems weird to treat for-profit corporations differently from non-profit corporations (a.k.a. churches) in this regard.  I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that a corporation can have religious beliefs (Hobby Lobby the company certainly cannot walk down the aisle and be born again according to my understanding of Christianity!), but that does not prevent me from recognizing the argument as valid.

I think this discussion is incredibly interesting and I’m following it here-and-there to see what happens next.  If you’d like to follow it also, I recommend Volokh Conspiracy’s coverage as they usually cover both sides of the argument in an intelligent way, and SCOTUSblog for scheduling and the Court’s opinions.  Nothing is showing up for me on the Court’s calendar just yet.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week

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On Growing Up

The Huffington Post’s 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  How many times have we heard this about unnecessary apologizing?  And I still do it.  Do you?

On Networking and Professional Dressing

Lydia Dishman for Fast Company asking Do Dress Codes at the Office Work?  For me, dressing for success is more about dressing well and feeling awesome, not dressing in a certain style.  So, good-fitting denim, a stylish blouse and heeled boots make up my go-to Getting All The Things Done outfit.  I am a powerhouse of productivity on Casual Fridays.

Keith Lee’s Natural Networking: Business Development On Your Terms provides tips for expanding your network successfully without selling out.  [Skip the beginning and start reading right under the GIF.  First few paragraphs are a bit meh.]  A quick summary:  just do stuff you like and tell people who you are; connections that develop organically are still connections.

On Adoption Ethics and How We Can Help Better

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wrote an excellent piece critiquing orphan care as the solution to poverty.  It is really amazing and I think everyone in the entire world should read it.  Check out How the Christian orphan care movement may be enabling child abandonment.

On the Government Shutdown and Being a Better Citizen

The Shriver Brief’s post describing how important the federal government is to housing in America, and detailing struggles that could result from a [further] extended government shutdown.  Check out Jeremy Bergstrom’s Government Shutdown Hits Close to Home for Millions of Americans.

And even if politics and government subsidies aren’t your thing, I’m so impressed by The Bloggess’s WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT.  Let’s all get busy making America a country to be proud of, starting right where we are.  Here’s one way we can do that, provided by Kid President.

Thanks for reading!  And, I’ll admit it:  it was actually six links plus a video, but I’m allowed to break the rules on my own blog!  Feel free to share other awesome things you’ve been reading in the comments.

 

Real Life

Hi Friends.  It’s been a hot minute since you’ve gotten an update, so that’s what you are getting today!  Hope you are doing well — can’t wait to hear about your fabulous lives as well.

Writing.

I told you how I signed up for a writing class thing for the summer, remember?  Well, it doesn’t start until July 1st but during June I’m using Elora’s 30-days of writing prompts geared for finding your purpose.  I’m not even half-way through the prompts, but I’m loving how they excite me about writing and also kick me in the butt for being lazy and not prioritizing my gifts in my own life.  If you’re interested in purchasing the prompts, you can get 30 days of prompts for only $30.  It supports a great writer, and it supports you as a writer, so it’s basically win-win.

Work.

In our last update, I mentioned that I might have a position in Chicago but that it was tricky and not certain and that I wasn’t sure if it would be with my old job or my new (same agency but different division) job or something altogether unexpected. . . Well, it’s settled now and I officially have a position and I officially start on August 12th — the same day H starts his new job!  It’s a dream come true for making our physical and financial transition smooth and I am so excited and thankful that it worked out.  I mean, I couldn’t imagine a better scenario.

Well, unless Rahm called me and was like Hey, MB, we really need a lawyer to work for us in the City of Chicago and really, you are the only one we want.  So can you come and re-do our land-use policies and make sure our master plan doesn’t accidentally (or intentionally) discriminate and be in charge of ending homelessness and economic development grants and just spend all of my city budget helping people? And can you please wear jeans and a blazer to work every day, because dress pants just aren’t our style.  That would be a pretty great scenario too. 

The Daily Grind.

H is fishing three days a week and reading Game of Thrones during his well deserved summer break after graduate school, and I’m enjoying my job a lot.  I’m incredibly busy and working on some organizational planning efforts that are complicated and messy and exactly the kind of projects I love.  I’m doing a lot better at getting to work early on time and getting full nights of sleep, and I’m trying to get to the gym twice a week and eat fewer calories and more vegetables.  I even had a glass of wine and a BLT instead of two glasses of beer and a cheeseburger at Trivia last night.  Impressive, I know.

Our Move.

We’re still planning to find an apartment after the July 4th holiday and move up the first weekend in August.  Now that we both have start-dates for our jobs, it’s getting more real.  Once we find our new place in only SIXTEEN DAYS!!! we will schedule our movers.  Between now and then, I’m going to start  going through some of our things and packing/donating.

Let’s talk about donating for a second — do you guys ever feel like Goodwill doesn’t want your donations?  On the day of my last drop-off, I was asked if the clothes I had in sacks had been dry-cleaned and were on individual hangers.  I’m not dry-cleaning t-shirts, but I don’t want to just throw them out.  Is there a better way to donate used items that still have some life in them?

We’re also looking at a lot of furniture stores, because we have a lot of things to purchase in the coming months and want to be responsible about such large expenses.  For a new sofa, we’re considering Basset Furniture — we really liked their selection and service.  We also found this AMAZING coffee table (minus the wheels) but it seems weird to pay so much for something that looks so simple. . . not that furniture making is simple, just that I wish it were so I could have whatever kind of furniture I wanted.  (P.S. Sorry this photo is a little blurry.)

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Travel.

We spent last weekend in Virginia Beach, and we had so much fun EXCEPT that the traffic on I-95 from DC toward Richmond was HORRENDOUS.  When we left at 10:30 a.m. I anticipated arriving by 3:00. . . but it was actually 6:30.  That’s how much traffic it was.

But, it was so fun to get away, and I only took one picture!  Below please find Virginia Beach’s favorite drink, the Orange Crush.

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Professional Photo Shoot

Last Friday afternoon I accepted a volunteer leadership position with an organization I am a member of.  It is a fantastic opportunity for me to do legal work in a field I care about, and a great way to expand my network since I’ll be moving to Chicago and basically starting my professional network there from scratch. 

Once I’d accepted, I received a final request that said (paraphrasing here): “Thanks!  Please submit your professional head shot to xxxxxxxxx at [email address] for inclusion in our leadership directory. 

…. ummm, my professional head shot?  Do people normally have those just sitting around? 

Working as a government policy-maker (and not in an Office of General Counsel or fancy-schmancy law firm) has some great perks.  I get to make decisions like, we should do this instead of that “for policy reasons.”  So, even though an idea is technically legal I can argue against it just because it sounds stupid/inefficient/like a bad idea/is unsupported by research/ or is otherwise unlikely to help families and children as much as another idea could or would.  I never have to work more than 40 hours each week and I get great benefits.  But there are things the job doesn’t include that I miss: things like CLE and bar expense reimbursements, administrative leave for lawyer training events and conferences, business cards (yes, really), and a reason and venue for taking professional head shots. 

I’ve been working a little at a time to fill these tiny gaps in my portfolio.  Earlier this year I ordered beautiful name cards from www.minted.com to use while networking, and I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the design and paper/printing.  Today, I had an emergency photo shoot with Gretchen from Honey I Shrunk the Gretchen so I could send a head shot to the organization.  We met up during my lunch break today and had a 30-minute photo shoot plus meet-and-greet in the L’Enfant Plaza-Smithsonian area.  The weather was perfect, Gretchen was fantastic (and funny!), and our hastily planned quick-and-dirty photo shoot was a huge success.  

Check out a few photos from today’s session!  I think Gretchen did a wonderful job of making me look smart AND pretty, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.  We were able to squeeze in a few more casual shots too, which I will be revealing soon as the blog gets a facelift over the next few months.  Adding professional-quality photos to the blog, linked-in, and other social media accounts has been a goal of mine since last November, and I’m excited to have one more item checked off of that list. 

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Three New Blogs and a Fulfilled Promise

There are a few promises I’ve made to you over these last few months that turned out to be flat out lies remain unfulfilled.  It’s time to start making that right.

On March 11th, I told you that I was tired of jumping from online clique to online clique, and that I was going to mix up my blog reader, which would hopefully have a similar impact on my writing style.  I told you that “While faith issues are an important piece of who I am as a writer, that tiny piece of the internet world is not enough on its own. What you read is what you write, and I’m just not cut out for a one-subject career.” 

And while I have not mastered the art of a delightfully varied yet cohesively themed blog yet, I have found some pretty fabulous reads on this here internet.  I tried a lot of new blogs, and while there are a ton of new additions in my reader, these are the top three:

1.  Corporette.

Corporette is the perfect mix of fashion + work tips + balancing family life and work life.  I enjoy the fashion pics — although I don’t always read them — but I absolutely love the comments over there and always learn something from the Weekend Open Thread.  Something work-related you’ve been wondering about, or need a professional woman’s opinion on handling issues with your in-laws?  Need advice on handling a sexist partner in your law firm or how to pick out a maternity suit?  Corporette has you covered.

2.  Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Anne and I are soul mates.  I mean, if your soul mate can be someone who has never heard of you and has no idea you exist.  [Hi, Anne!]  She loves writing and literature and is funny and writes about a good mix of life-things, which is what I want to do, eventually.  Story time:  When asked to introduce myself to the class by explaining which literary character I most identified with and why in my undergrad literature course, I said “Elizabeth Bennet, pre-love discovery.”  Which got some weird looks but was pretty honest, given that I sometimes say inappropriate things in social situations…

3.  Lawyerist.

I just like it.  It’s about lawyering and about life.  I find it so entertaining and sometimes educational.  If you aren’t a lawyer (or a half-lawyer struggling to find your career identity in a policy position…) then you might not love it, but I do.

Post Script

Google Reader is leaving this world in a few months, and I’ve started using Feedly as a replacement.  It is a little less convenient than Reader, since my internet connection can be fuzzy on the metro and it takes a bit longer to load, but the graphics are AMAZING and I’m starting to forget that Reader ever existed.  I especially love the “save for later” feature — it makes Five Things posts incredibly easy.  Check it out.

 

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week: Gideon Edition

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This week marks the 50th Anniversary of Gideon, and while it is one of the most important cases in our society it is under-represented in American cultural conversations.  So I’m bringing it back.  Just like JT and sexiness.

The Basics:  Gideon v. Wainwright, a case decided by the Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, established the fundamental notion that any person accused of criminal behavior has a right to counsel even if he or she cannot afford counsel.

“The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Pretty convincing, right?

Okay, so now that you are as in love with the principles of fairness and justice as I am, now that you are thinking of naming your first child Gideon after a heroic man who stood for justice for himself and ended up ensuring justice for us all (not to mention that whole other Gideon character in the Bible, am I right?), let’s jump to our Five Things.

  1. The Atlantic published a great introductory piece that provides the history of Gideon, the resulting limitations on the right to counsel, and a charge to the American public:  “Either there is a right to counsel or there isn’t. And if there is such a right, we all have an obligation to ensure it is recognized — not just in the history books, and not just in a television movie, and not just in a dusty law book, but in the everyday lives of our fellow citizens.”
  2. Another great piece from The New York Times details how Gideon has been ignored (or worse) across many states, including one woman who sat in jail for eleven months before counsel was appointed to assist her.
  3. “Funding indigent defense isn’t funding criminals. Funding indigent defense isn’t paying incompetent lawyers to do nothing. It’s funding something far more important. It’s funding the protection of the Constitution,” says a blogger using the name “Gideon,” blogging over at A Public Defender.  He attributes the lack of funding and other failures of our justice system to people just not giving a shit about indigent defense.  And he’s funny.
  4. Lawyers have ethical obligations to be prepared, diligent, zealous, and more, but when many public defenders are over-worked and underpaid, does their lack of time lead to under-preparation and less-than-fair representation?  An examination of how different states and parties are responding to this office is over at the National Law Journal.
  5. Finally, a summary of remarks made by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan at an event honoring the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright at the Department of Justice this week, brought to us from The Blog of Legal Times (The BLT).  She indicates that an indigent (poor) client is not entitled to all the bells and whistles of a “Cadillac lawyer,” but certainly is entitled to “a Ford Taurus defense,” an attorney who can appropriately advise and represent the client’s interests.

Career Crossroads, first draft

I’m at a bit of a crossroads currently.  We know that we will be moving because H has an awesome new job — but we are still waiting for the location so I’ve been holding back on announcing this to people in my professional world.  Once we know when and where, we can start discussing, but until then there really isn’t much to say:  

We might be moving somewhere sometime after August.  
It might be earlier.  I have no idea when or where or how
we will make this work.  

Yet I’m trying to make some big decisions in this vacuum.  Do I want to continue doing federal-agency-level policy making, or do I want to jump off this ship and swim back toward legal services?  Do I want to manage a non-profit?  Do I want to do real estate and development deals to create more affordable housing?  And the biggest question of all:  is it too late, is my career too off-the-beaten path, can I even get a job as a lawyer anymore?  Has my resume been permanently stamped with the scarlet letter of a policy-maker?

I don’t know these answers.  I know that I want to make a difference — that when I see a need, I want to meet it.  That this world is broken in so many ways, and that we can soothe the pain that stems from its brokenness.

I have a few dreams right now.  I dream of working in family law and helping wounded mothers and children find protection from their dangerous worlds and benefits to help them transition into a new life.  I dream of sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago or Nashville or Dallas and meeting with low-income individuals who want to understand how to start a business, or provide for their families, or start a non-profit, but just don’t know what the rules and regulations are.  That just need someone to explain the rules of the game, the way insurance works, and how to move forward when so much is uncertain.

But a lot is uncertain for me too, and I wonder sometimes how I can possibly be qualified to provide legal counsel to a family struggling with such difficult issues when my own life is so bland and safe by comparison.

But there is also another option:  an option where I transition into another federal-policy-making position and continue down my current path.  And that option, it is full of job security but not necessarily satisfying work; bureaucracy can be such a bummer.  But it could be perfect.  That job has the potential to change the lives not just of the families I have time to sit with, but families all across our country.  And that is something I could fight for, if the possibility were real, and the cards were right, and the budgets came through and the politics supported the effort.

If I stay in the bureaucracy there is no guarantee that the work I will accomplish will actually change the circumstances of any families.  And if I leave, there is no guarantee that I can find a position that permits me to do the work I want to do — no guarantee that I can articulate the type of work I am looking for, much less find someone in that field prepared to take a risk by hiring me.

But perhaps, just maybe, I’d rather sit down and talk to one family than change a paragraph in a regulation that may or may not trickle down to affect families in need.  Perhaps I’d rather meet one family’s needs where the family is, and help that family find security and peace than to edit all of the regulations in the world.

Calling is a tricky thing, in case you were wondering.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week

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1. The best tip for being an effective female leader? Stop worrying so much about how you are perceived and focus on getting the job done. This and more from Herminia Ibarra in How Female Leaders Should Handle Double Standards.

2. & 3. There were two fantastic posts on sex, gender, and the church by Preston Yancey this week, and I’d like to tell you which one is the most essential for your weekend reading, but honestly? Both.

First up was his piece on how adolescent boys understand sexuality and purity when our youth pastors tell young women to “cover up,” instead of telling young men to see their female peers [and all peers, while we’re at it] as human beings made in the image of God.

And right behind that came a call for continued feminism in the church. And this one line still rings in my heart even now, like a battlefield call to action:

“Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can hear He is risen! in the tone it was first shouted.”

4. A little land-use nerd alert for you guys: RegBlog’s update on the forthcoming Supreme Court case on regulatory takings.

5. Oliver’s guide to reading like a writer (beer in hand) over on Literature and Libations.

Okay, there you have it! Have a fantastic weekend and feel free to link up to what you’ve been reading in the comments.

Let’s talk about Hobby Lobby

I hear your voices in the distance [on my newsfeed] supporting Hobby Lobby’s complaint that the company’s freedom of religion is being violated by the ACA/Obamacare birth control provision.  I have seen your commentary about protecting religious freedom in America.  I have also reviewed the documents, so I know that before mandatory full payment for women’s preventative health care became controversial, Hobby Lobby was paying for the now-objectionable emergency contraceptive coverage.  It only changed its plan once it discovered this was an issue.  And I’m not making any assumptions here – perhaps Hobby Lobby’s owners didn’t realize what they were paying for until these news articles came out and they took a look at their own plan.

I love shopping at Hobby Lobby, but I’m a little confused about why so many people are jumping on this bandwagon.  I’m not expressing a position on the nature of human sexuality or the social or moral value of contraception [not that I don’t have one, mind you . . .], but I do think we should examine an issue before choosing the side of “Devout Christians,” as the Becket Fund has classified its supporters.  I’d also like to support Hobby Lobby putting its 1.3 million dollars per day into the mouths of hungry poverty-stricken children instead of paying fines to the government while it fights against the violation of a right it may or may not actually have.

So, with that said, let’s talk about the Constitution.  Just for a few minutes, without checking all of my law books and citations and shepardizing cases and so on, let me just put some things out there.  The first amendment and the freedom of religion can be kind of tricky, but the basic principles really aren’t as complicated as they may seem.

I’ve pulled my bar exam notes for you, to talk about a few sticky bits but honestly handle only the very basic issues.  The bar exam is not exactly the most sophisticated or nuanced thing.  We don’t cite cases or prepare briefs – we simply apply basic principles to relatively straightforward fact patterns to show that we have a handle on how the law works.  So what you’re about to read is not exactly rocket science, and is certainly NOT LEGAL ADVICE.  [If it alarms you that this is the simple kind of analysis used to pass an exam that qualifies one individual to hold the personal freedoms and, sometimes, the life of another in his or her hands, don’t worry.  It shocked the rest of us too.  We aren’t entirely sure we are qualified to be lawyers either.]

So here’s one of the most important things you can know as an American citizen:  The constitution does not protect your right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, no matter what.  I know, I know, THIS IS AMERICA.  But seriously, that’s just not how it works.

As a religious individual, you have two specific protections granted by the first amendment regarding your religious-ness.  There are other protections, like the freedom to associate with those you choose, that are also essential to religious expression, but let’s forget about those and focus on the “freedom of religion” piece of Amendment Numero Uno.

1)      The Establishment Clause.  This clause prohibits the government from making a law or operating a program that favors one religious faith over another or names one religious faith as the faith of the country.

2)      The Free Exercise Clause.  This clause prohibits the government from enacting a law or program that is based on hostility to a religious faith.

This second clause applies here, so let’s dig a little deeper.

The government is not prohibited from making a law that inadvertently inconveniences religious expression if the purpose of that law is something other than hostility to the inconvenienced religious expression.

For example, when the purpose of a law is to protect the health and safety of the citizenry and applies to the general public, there is no violation of the first amendment even if that law happens to prohibit a religious practice of a certain group.  There is certainly a limit to this.  If the religious practice is not merely inconvenienced by the rule, but the complaining party’s religious expression is substantially burdened by the rule, and the party shows this substantial burden, the rules change.  Once a substantial burden is proven, the law can only be upheld if it (a) furthers a compelling governmental interest and (b) is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.  This only comes into play after a substantial burden is shown.

What is a substantial burden?  That’s a hard question to answer.  There’s not necessarily a perfect formula for finding one.  What we know so far from this case is that the courts are not satisfied enough with Hobby Lobby’s argument to grant an injunction.  There are a few issues at play, which we will know more about as the case moves forward.

  • The court explained that Hobby Lobby’s funding of a group health plan that “might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s’] religion” wasn’t enough to show a substantial burden at the injunction stage.  They wrote that the relationship between Hobby Lobby and the use of contraception was too attenuated — too far removed to be a substantial burden on Hobby Lobby.  We will see how this develops during the rest of the case.
  • The court also noted that a secular company does not have a right to religious expression that can be substantially burdened.  And that’s a new and interesting idea, which will most likely be hotly contested in the forthcoming litigation.  Read the opinion here, and skip to pages 10-12 for the corporate rights question.

So there it is, you guys, one of my first law-related posts in a pretty long while.  I’m interested in the issues from academic and religious perspectives, and hope this break-down is helpful without being too simplistic.  Feel free to leave comments and/or corrections to my hastily written summary.  And happy first-day-after-the-fiscal-cliff!

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