Megan McArdle explains what is going on underneath the Hobby Lobby furor. Here's her first home-run paragraph:
I think a few things are going on here. The first is that while the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience, the secular left views it as something more like a hobby, so for them it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts. That emotional disconnect makes it hard for the two sides to even debate; the emotional tenor quickly spirals into hysteria as one side says “Sacred!” and the other side says, essentially, “Seriously? Model trains?” That shows in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, where it seems to me that she takes a very narrow view of what role religious groups play in the lives of believers and society as a whole.
So that is part one, kind of a "don't hold your deeply-held beliefs any deeper than anyone who doesn't have any deeply-held beliefs" on the part of the secular left.
The second part of the explanation is the classic rights versus entitlements struggle. Conservatives want rights, liberals want entitlements. McArdle describes these as negative rights and positive rights.
All of us learned some version of “You have the right to your beliefs, but not to impose them on others” in civics class. It’s a classic negative right. And negative rights are easy to make reciprocal: You have a right to practice your religion without interference, and I have a right not to have your beliefs imposed on me.
This works very well in situations in which most of the other rights granted by society are negative rights, because negative rights don’t clash very often. Oh, sure, you’re going to get arguments about noise ordinances and other nuisance abatements, but unless your religious practices are extreme indeed, the odds that they will substantively violate someone else’s negative rights are pretty slim.
In this context, “Do what you want, as long as you don’t try to force me to do it, too” works very well, which is why this verbal formula has had such a long life. But when you introduce positive rights into the picture, this abruptly stops working. You have a negative right not to have your religious practice interfered with, and say your church forbids the purchase or use of certain forms of birth control. If I have a negative right not to have my purchase of birth control interfered with, we can reach a perhaps uneasy truce where you don’t buy it and I do. But if I have a positive right to have birth control purchased for me, then suddenly our rights are directly opposed: You have a right not to buy birth control, and I have a right to have it bought for me, by you.
I think this all is worth taking a lot of time to meditate on. For example, I'm a parent. In a sense it's true to say that my kids are entitled to "free food" since they can't earn it themselves. However, to me, it is much more true to say that my wife and I have the responsibility to feed them than it is to say they have the right to free food. So I have to figure out how to earn the money to do that and my wife has to figure out how to deliver meals to them three times a day, etc. Any entitlement they could claim is secondary and subsidiary to my actions in carrying out my duty.
The language of positive rights or entitlements devoid of any discussion of reciprocal responsibilities is what is found in many places on the left today. For example, people on unemployment are suppose to be looking for work and applying for so many jobs a week. But do they really? If you are out of work you can get low-cost or no-cost tech training in most states; I have a friend who did that. He hated being taxpayer-subsidized, but I'm afraid he's an exception. I've run into many more people who are sitting around waiting for the factory to re-open, content to subsist and blame whoever they dislike for their predicament.
I could go on with more, but you get it. Not only do our negative rights not clash with each other, they fit hand-in-glove with the personal responsibility that is part of the inherent dignity of the human person. On the other hand, so-called "positive rights" are the opposite of personal responsibility. Do you have a right to health care? Of course you do, but you have to pay for it. Do you have a right to food? Yes, and you can pay for it in the self-checkout line or the line with the cashier.
What if you walk into my wig store and hand me money for a wig and I don't want to sell it to you because you are a Zoroastrian? To bad for me; I have to sell you a wig. Otherwise I'm discriminating and trampling your rights. But you don't have a right to free wigs whether or not you are a Zoroastrian. However the entitlement mentality would state that if someone wants a wig but can't pay for it then they should have a right to it. The taxpayers should pony up to make sure there is "economic justice", yet another synonym for the entitlement mentality.
We need to continue the attack the left's constant assault on our personal liberty and the true nature of the rights we have as human beings which the state recognizes and protects. The government's job is not to enumerate ever more "positive rights" to squeeze out the true freedoms and the true nature of our personal responsibilities. We also need to teach our kids this, first by throwing propaganda like The Rainbow Fish into the garbage can, then by explaining the difference in how a Christian views our rights and responsibilities as citizens and how secular leftists like Obama and Ginsburg defines them. And of course by trying to fulfill our duties and respect the true rights of others.