“Corporations are people, my friend.”  –former Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney

The Roberts Supreme Court may be known for many things when looking back on it in a century, but I expect that one of them will be taking broad steps to give the same rights to corporations that are enjoyed by individuals. Yesterday (Monday, June 30), the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling that many of us more progressive folks, and almost certainly non-religious folks, had been watching closely, and dreaded: In Burwell et al. v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. et al., SCOTUS in a 5-4 decision ruled for Hobby Lobby.

At issue, to the layperson like myself, was whether the federal government could force a publicly owned corporation to provide a service to its employees just as all other corporations, but against this corporation’s religious beliefs. SCOTUS ruled “no.”

I opened over two dozen stories about this yesterday and today, and it’s actually not quite as bad as I thought. The “real” issue, or at least the legal justification of this much narrower decision than it could have been, is that the mandate to provide contraception as part of the health care plan offered to employees actually conflicts with a 1993 religious freedom law (“Religious Freedom Restoration Act”):

The legislation said that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.” It went on to say that the measure’s purpose was “to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.” –NY Times

SCOTUS decided that requiring Hobby Lobby to provide contraception under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, against those in charge’s religious feelings, violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They did not issue a blanket ruling saying that the ACA was unconstitutional, that the 1993 law is constitutional, or anything like that.

Which means that there are two very clear ways around this. First, the government could subsidize birth control for women who do not have it covered by their employer. Second, Congress could repeal the 1993 Act. I think that the former via Executive Order is much more likely to happen in this political environment than the latter. Though they may be trying for the latter at the moment.

So now that you’ve suffered through my legal opinions, let’s go for some linky-dinks (the “dinks” because we’re talking WND here):

You can get a good idea from the headlines where they’re headed with this, and among the hundreds of comments (435 alone on Bob’s), most are quite pleased.

Most liberals are not. There are many implications, and perhaps the most scathing dissent from the majority was by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But before I get to that, the LGBT community is particularly worried about the implications.

Top-rated comment by “GeorgiaPeachie” on Bob Unruh’s article tells you why: “WOOHOO!!! This ruling can be used by Christians when sued by HOMOSEXUALS. The Wedding Cake, Wedding Photography and others related small businesses now have a ruling in their favor!!! HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY DAY!!!”

Yeah … now, I’m no “law-talkin’ guy” (lawyer), but it seems to me that if the justification for the mandate being illegal (not unconstitutional) is that employers can impose their religious beliefs on the kinds of services offered their employees, then what’s to stop a Christian-bent company owner from refusing to honor the marriage (and therefore spousal plans for health insurance) to a same-sex couple that is legally married in that state? Or innumerable other things. RightWing Watch has already pointed to many of the leaders of the anti-gay movement saying as much.

With that taste in mind, here are several other articles that have a more liberal feeling on the ruling, generally in temporal order from when I found them:

There are many things in these other writings that I like, and I’m going to quote several of them. From Hemant (first link):

Congratulations, conservative Christian business owners. You win. You can finally legally discriminate against women by denying them access to certain kinds of birth control normally available through their insurance.

Just remember this, Green family: While you’re reveling in victory, millions of young people are fully aware of what you’re really celebrating. It’s not about “religious liberty” because your rights were never up for debate. We know you’re happy because, once again, Christianity has been used as a weapon of discrimination. Enjoy your Supreme Court victory while it lasts because, in exchange, you’re about to lose even more of your social power.

This is just a continuation of all those other times you used your power to make others’ lives worse. Every time you stood in the way of marriage equality, more people left their churches, vowing never to return. For years now, we’ve known that the reputation of Christians is that they’re anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women. You’ve only solidified those stereotypes and churches will pay for that as they lose members fed up with being associated with an organization that takes joy in denying others freedom and happiness.

The Center for Inquiry:

“This is not a decision that advances religious freedom — it is a decision that enshrines religious privilege over and above employee well-being,” added Lindsay. “This decision defies common sense, lacks compassion, and has the potential to harm us all.”

From RightWing Watch:

Writing for the majority in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Alito emphasized [PDF] that the ruling, which partly overturned the Obama administration’s rules on birth control coverage, does not apply to other cases involving religious objections to government regulations.

… While Alito stresses that only closely-held corporations are involved in this case, what about a company board dominated by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, or evangelicals like David Barton who believe “that the Bible opposes the minimum wage, unions and collective bargaining, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, and progressive taxation in general”?

With Congress currently debating the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, what if Hobby Lobby’s owners cited their religion as a reason to discriminate against LGBT employees? Or refuse to cover HIV/AIDS treatments?

The Washington Post, who showed a lot of different poll results:

It suggests that Americans’ opinions on the topic are quite malleable and — by extension — pretty soft. If Americans can offer such different responses based on just a few words being changed in the question, they probably don’t feel all that strongly about the issue or haven’t really paid attention.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who feel very strongly. It just means they they are probably in the minority.

Which means today’s Supreme Court ruling is probably a lot more about precedent and legal wrangling than about the 2014 election.

The Washington Post’s Q&A article:

Does this mean I will no longer get free birth control through my company insurance plan?

It probably does not mean that — unless you work for Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood Specialties, or one of the more than 40 other companies that have filed similar complaints. Other companies might jump on the bandwagon, but a deluge is unlikely.

For one thing, the justices were specific that a company dropping this coverage had to be motivated by sincerely held religious convictions. Most companies, even if their owners are religious, are secular in their day-to-day operations.

Also, even before the law, most employers covered contraception, suggesting they do not have to be compelled to offer the benefit.

George Takei:

“In this case, the owners happen to be deeply Christian; one wonders whether the case would have come out differently if a Muslim-run chain business attempted to impose Sharia law on its employees. As many have pointed out, Hobby Lobby is the same company that invests in Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceuticals, makers of abortion inducing-drugs and the morning after pill. It also buys most of its inventory from China, where forced abortions are common. The hypocrisy is galling.

“Hobby Lobby is not a church. It’s a business — and a big one at that. Businesses must and should be required to comply with neutrally crafted laws of general applicability. Your boss should not have a say over your healthcare. Once the law starts permitting exceptions based on ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ there’s no end to the mischief and discrimination that will ensue. Indeed, this is the same logic that certain restaurants and hotels have been trying to deploy to allow proprietors to refuse service to gay couples.”

Finally, from Justice Ginsburg’s dissent (copied from TFA):

Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent.

… The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.

… the Court’s reasoning appears to permit commercial enterprises like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga to exclude from their group health plans all forms of contraceptives.

… Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)? According to counsel for Hobby Lobby, “each one of these cases… would have to be evaluated on its own… apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.”… Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.

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Comments
  1. flip says:

    It may have some issues, but this is why I’m glad I live in a country with socialised health care – no employer can tell me what health care I can take nor what insurance to use. This is one of those few times I feel justified in shaking my head and thinking ” only in America”…

    • Stuart Robbins says:

      There are a lot of people unhappy with this, but with Congress these days, nothing’s going to happen any time soon to change it.

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