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Hobby Lobby tries to craft religious rights

The arc of history bends toward freedom. If you want to understand what has happened over the past decades and centuries, what is happening now, keep that premise in mind. In the past, people were controlled by institutions, which dictated the details of their lives, telling them how to worship, work, dress, think, behave.

Then gradually, individuals stood up and claimed the right to make those decisions.

Look, to take one example from Chicago history, at Pullman, the South Side neighborhood that once was the company town for the Pullman Palace Car Co., which manufactured luxury railroad sleeping cars.

If you worked for Pullman, you lived in Pullman’s town by Pullman’s rules. George Pullman chose the books in the library you could read; he decided what church you could attend. He didn’t like drinking, so residents could not buy liquor. The only bar was at the Florence Hotel, named for his daughter — the idea being that visitors might want to drink, but his workers could not.

Few today would cast an envious eye on Pullman. We in the leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook don’t say: “You know, Allstate is big here. Let’s let them decide what kind of birth control we use.” That wouldn’t fly.

Yet, right now, in 2014, a case is being discussed by the Supreme Court whether Hobby Lobby, a chain of 500 arts and crafts stores, can decide for its 13,000 employees what kind of birth control they use.