I was born in a country that wouldn’t allow me to buy oral contraceptives or get a legal abortion. I could be denied a job because I am a woman. Homosexuality was illegal. Women could be denied health insurance by their employers because religion decrees that husbands should provide for their wives. That country is the United States.
Many people don’t know what life was like in the United States less than 50 years ago. They may find out if the religious right sends us back to the 19th century. That’s the crux of the case that the U.S. Supreme Court heard on March 25. SCOTUS’ earlier decisions on marriage equality and voting rights joined Citizens United in a trio of culture-changing court cases, one moving society forward and the other two in reverse. In the current cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, SCOTUS has the power to determine the trajectory of the United States.
The Affordable Care Act requires businesses with over 50 employees to provide insurance that includes FDA-approved methods of birth control; 58 for-profit companies have challenged the law. On its surface the two SCOTUS cases, nicknamed Hobby Lobby, are about whether a corporation can refuse to cover employees’ contraception because of the owners’ religious beliefs. The Green family believes that contraception is abortion because they think that life begins when a woman ovulates.
As usual, Fox network promulgates the lies surrounding ACA. Its “judicial anlysist” Andrew Napolitano told “Fox News” host Megyn Kelly that “contraceptive services means contraception, euthanasia and abortion.” According to Napolitano, any ovulating woman is “pregnant.” Hobby Lobby is actually about preventing pregnancy which saves money for insurance companies.
The case isn’t about whether the Green family is accurate in its beliefs; it’s about whether any belief , no matter how inaccurate, can be used in the argument for “religious freedom.” If Hobby Lobby wins, corporations could use personal religious beliefs to deny any healthcare—vaccinations, blood transfusions, HIV drugs, pregnancy care, mental health care, etc. LGBT people can forget about consistency in obtaining goods and services or finding employment. Justice Elena Kagan also brought up the question of religious employers objecting to gender equality, or the minimum wage, or family medical leave, or child labor laws. The Christian bible also supports human sacrifice. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could mean that states would no longer need to pass laws permitting discrimination: SCOTUS would have already declared this the law of the land.
Paul Clement, lawyer for Hobby Lobby, agreed that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby could result in for-profit corporations denying anyone anything based on personal religious beliefs. He shrugged off any problems because he didn’t believe large for-profit corporations would do anything like this. If they did, according to Clement, each of the issues could be handled separately. Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with him.
The lower court argument in Conestoga was based on punctuation—specifically a comma with a dot above it called a semi-colon. According to lawyers, “the authors of the First Amendment only separated the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause by a semi-colon, thus showing the continuation of intent between the two.” Because SCOTUS gave free speech to for-profit corporations in Citizens United, the court should give free exercise of religion to for-profit corporations in Conestoga, lawyers argued.
These are some ways that religious groups already deny individuals:
- Timberlake Christian School (VA) threatened to not enroll 8-year-old Sunnie Kahle because she doesn’t look feminine enough and directed Sunnie to look like a “female” as God ordained. She followed the dress code that allows pans and has no appropriate hair length. “Heart-broken” that Sunnie’s grandparents “made her the subject of a public discussion,” the school immediately withdrew Sunnie.
- Chase Paymentech of JPMorgan Chase, which handled about 29 billion transactions in 2012, refused to handle credit card payments for a condom company created by a mother-and-daughter team. The Lovability condom company defines its mission as “to empower women to take responsibility for their sexual health.” One in four women in the U.S. suffer from an STD that they most likely received from a man. My question is whether Chase handles transactions for condom companies run by men and for retail stores that sell condoms.
- The Catholic Duquesne University of Pittsburgh argues that adjunct teachers cannot form a union because unions are against Catholic values. One of their adjunct teachers, 83-year-old Margaret Mary, a 25-year-long adjunct French teacher at the school, saw her under-$25,000 wage reduced to under $10,000 last year because of her cancer before the university fired her. With no benefits and unable to even afford to pay her electric bill, Mary was found dead on her front lawn after a massive heart attack. Over half the college courses in the United States have adjunct teachers who are paid only by the classes that they teach.
- Most states sanction parents’ killing children through the adults’ belief in faith healing with no medical interference. Hundreds of children have died because parents refuse to call in a doctor for serious illnesses.
“One of the well known truisms in ethics is that good moral judgments depend in part on good facts,” according to Dr. Ron Hamel, senior director of ethics for the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA). He wrote this as the ACA was being born almost four years ago. The law’s mandate allows women free access to all FDA-approved forms of contraception that include oral medication, long-term reversible contraceptives such as IUDs, and sterilization.
Only one drug, RU-486 (mifepristone) has been approved to induce abortion, and it is not on the FDA’s list of approved contraception. No FDA-approved contraception can destroy an embryo.
A basis for Hobby Lobby is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, passed in response to a 1990 SCOTUS ruling that allowed Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to two Native American men fired for using peyote as part of a religious ceremony. Antonin Scalia argued in the majority opinion, “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” He said that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”
The SCOTUS decision held that a person’s religious beliefs are not sufficient grounds to break laws that are considered “neutral” or generally applicable. Concerned about people in minority religion groups, Congress passed RFRA to safeguard against large entities from oppressing individual rights.
“How does a corporation exercise religion?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked. Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in Citizens United stated,”[C]orporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”
Hobby Lobby already sells items used for abortions. Women who become pregnant because they lack access to birth control have used knitting needles for abortions and will continue to do this because abortions—and possibly contraceptions–are becoming less and less accessible throughout the nation. An affirmative ruling for Hobby Lobby in this case will cause decades of anguish to untold number of people in the United States as well as a fortune for the lawyers.
There is one bright light affecting the Hobby Lobby decision. SCOTUS knows that the current separation between corporations and owners is already fragile because of their ruling in Citizens United. Declaring in favor of Hobby Lobby would shred that is known as the “corporate veil.” The terms “Lifting the corporate veil” or “piercing the corporate veil” means that corporate rights, duties, and liabilities would be the same as for the shareholders.
The purpose of a corporation is to separate debts and benefits so that the owner cannot be sued. Ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s request not to follow a federal law would destroy the corporate veil. The corporation would no longer be treated as a distinct entity from its owners or shareholders. No Fortune 500 company has supported Hobby Lobby. Allowing a corporation to take on the owners’ beliefs and actions would cause corporate indemnity to disappear.
Two powerful opposing forces of religion and business are at work in this case. Will SCOTUS allow the religious beliefs of five family members to dominate those of 13,000 other people? Does SCOTUS want to maintain the financial separation between corporations and their owners? In this case, I’m guessing business trumps religion.