Kuhn’s Market Fundraises for Catholic Group Suing Feds Over Contraception

We are pretty consistent Giant Eagle shoppers, but last week in a hurry we decided to stop in to the Kuhn’s Market on McKnight Road. It wasn’t our first trip, but I noticed something different. This was at every single register.

 

Kuhn's Market
Collection box at Kuhn’s Market.

 

This seemingly innocuous little collection box supports one of the driving forces challenging women’s access to reproductive care under the Affordable Care Act –  Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius  They have won the first round and are exempted from providing their employees access to birth control (they weren’t required to pay for it, simply to complete paperwork as part of a compromise the federal government already negotiated.) Instead, this group of women doing God’s work are suing the federal government.

I worked for an order of nuns. I know exactly how pervasive the myth of “doing God’s work” can be, especially upon those who prefer to write a check than actually care for the least among us themselves. I also know that nuns are human beings with the same flaws and frailties and errors in judgment as the rest of us. And I loathe when people use the “but they do good work” defense, especially if they are uninformed about the big picture. Pope Francis doesn’t give priests a pass for doing good work and neither should we.

This is not innocuous. The Becket Fund which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor also represents Hobby Lobby which also seeks a religious exemption based on the religious beliefs of the owners of a for-profit business. In other words, they want religious freedom to protect them in their workplaces but they don’t want religious freedoms to protect us – workers, customers and the general public.

I’m not shopping at a business that supports overthrowing true religious freedom under the guise of charity for the poor. That’s absurd and an emotional manipulation in lieu of an actual rational decision. So I wrote to the President of Kuhn’s, Joe Dentici. This is his response in full.

Thank you for taking the time to write. I know nothing about the Little Sisters of the Poor being involved in a lawsuit with the federal government and do not believe that they are.  I do know that the Diocese of Pittsburgh may be a party to such a lawsuit, but the Little Sisters operate completely independent of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and gets absolutely no funding from the Diocese or the Catholic Church.  I am also aware that a number of religious entities of varying faiths as well as others have brought lawsuits of differing degrees involving challenges to the health care law as well as other laws. I am not a lawyer so I cannot comment on anyone’s legal position, and I trust that the judicial process will provide resolution. I can relate to you that Kuhn’s’ Market is  an equal opportunity employer as well as entity that serves customers without regard to religious affiliation or any other discriminatory reason.

As to the Little Sisters and their nationwide organization and mission, I suggest you should tour their  Pittsburgh facility on Benton Avenue on the Northside of Pittsburgh, it is a most respectable living place for those elderly who cannot afford housing, a mission that is unfortunately crucial in this time.  One of the persons I was with when we toured the facility asked how one gets to reside at the facility.  The Sister’s answer was that the qualifications were that one must be elderly and indigent.  Period. Money cannot buy entry to the residence.  The Little Sisters do their good work only through donations. Race, color, creed and sexual orientation are never considered.

All of us need to ask ourselves, if the Little Sisters were not there to help their residents, who would care for these people that have nobody to care for them?  The residents do not have the funds to pay for care, and it is those residents and future residents in need that we believe are deserving of our support.  In the “small world” category, our legal counsel was mentored by and a partner of a lawyer named Tom Kerr who also taught at CMU.  Each year, Tom would remind his students that every major faith and philosophy has one tenet in common: do for others as we would want for ourselves.  In this regard, if you know of other entities that provide this type of help, we stand ready to provide support if possible.

I would hope that you and everyone would choose to shop at Kuhn’s Markets for the quality of product, service and competitive pricing, and I further hope that you and I will never need the services of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Again, thank you for your email, and I hope that my response places this matter in its full and proper perspective.

Mr. Dentici seems to be Catholic, but I’m not 100% sure about that. I am impressed that he name dropped a lawyer who shares my surname (I’m not aware of an actual familial tie) and apparently talked with his lawyer before responding. Although I find it hard to believe he isn’t aware of the lawsuit, he’s probably a good guy, Mr. Dentici. But he’s missing the point.

IF we stand by and allow businesses to operate based on their religious values at the expense of their employees who do not share those values, we open a Pandora’s box to creating more poverty than the Little Sisters can ever hope to address. IF we waste federal taxpayer money on lawsuits over paperwork and third-party coverage of legal health care like birth control, we waste money that could be used to offset poverty – to care for people like the Little Sisters, to strengthen social safety net programs that prevent people from being indigent in their final years.

But most importantly – if Kuhn’s Market wants to fundraise for the Little Sisters of the Poor, they need to stand behind that decision and not pretend to be ignorant of the larger political and legal implications. They as a corporate entity stand to benefit by loosening ties that restrict their ability to impose religious beliefs on their employees. Maybe they won’t do that, but I think we can all agree they shouldn’t have the option.

Kuhn’s is free to make that decision and we are free to decide where to shop. But none of us will be free if the Little Sisters prevail in their lawsuit.

It is horrifying to tie together threads like Hobby Lobby with my grocery shopping choices, but we all make choices every day. These are not random relationships – they are sentiments fostered by a culture that wants to push back government oversight – push back our freedoms – to allow their world view to prevail. Whether that’s capitalism or Catholicism, it is not consistent with the principles of freedom and liberty for all.

Kuhn’s Market is helping to fund a lawsuit that would take away my freedom from religion and undermine my ability as a woman to make my own healthcare decisions. That’s not acceptable for me and it is certainly not consistent with a commitment to abolish poverty and care for the least among us.

Kuhn’s can do better.

Source: Kuhn's Market wesbite
Source: Kuhn’s Market wesbite
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  • Nice post Sue,and thanks for taking the time to interact with Kuhn’s management on this. Our country has evolved over the long haul to the place where it is now and allows religious organizations special rights and exemptions, and we are not likely to see that turned around overnight.

    The Hobby Lobby connection is both meaningful and irrelevant at the same time I think, at least constitutionally. A for-profit business and a non-profit religious organization, and putting forth different issues, even if there is an underlying issue of a woman’s constitutional right to choices in her own reproductive health.

    Looking forward to a follow up from this:
    Do you go to the North side ability and tour it and talk to the Sisters there? I hope so. is there any data out there as to how much their legal battle is costing the organization and how many people could that same money go to help?

    I especially love your comments about the “do good work” defense. There are many many who do good work while not taking away a person’s access to healthcare.

    • Thanks for weighing in on this post, Tom.

      I think the nuances of the erosion of our individual religious liberty in the face of corporate and institutional religious liberty is interesting and frightening. It certainly raises complex questions about relationships and charity. We want to keep things simple so we often turn a blind eye and make compromises. I don’t necessarily object to the compromise so much as the blind eye part.

      I am not planning to tour the facility. I spent enough time in close proximity to the Catholic Church – as a child, a college student on a Catholic campus, as an employee of another order of nuns, etc. I am sure most of the individual nuns are lovely people who truly believe in the very radical ministry they embrace and understand how radical the concept of caring for the least among us. I have little doubt that some of them are probably not so noble or generous. And I doubt they would comment on the lawsuit.

      The data on the lawsuit might be out there. It is probably funded pro bono and with private donations that we both know could be earmarked to the actual ministry instead, but probably wouldn’t be. Imagine if that mighty law firm did pro bono work with younger senior citizens to help them overcome legal barriers that keep them impoverished and thus not ending up indigent?

      I did follow up with Mr. Dentici and gave him the information he requested. I’ll let you know if he responds. He might surprise me.

  • Kuhn’s management’s response reads a bit condescending to me with a fair bit of shaming thrown in at the end – “have you toured the place?” (You’re too ill-informed to know, obviously, without a tour.) “Hope *we* never need it!” (Won’t you feel badly for what you said then!) as if there are not agencies and places out there for assistance that don’t stomp on women’s reproductive rights. Hey, the RC can get legal exemptions all they wish if that is how the court decides it (I am against the court decision, but they won’t let me be a judge), but Kuhn’s is voluntarily assisting their fundraising. Their choice, but freedom of choice always brings potential consequences for that choice. It seems disingenuous to ask people to ignore their personal ethical code and shop there anyway because, product! Pricing! should win over personal ethics especially when his argument seems to rest on *his* personal ethics.

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