Nel's New Day

June 29, 2014

Corporations Demand Religious Rights of ‘Persons’

Tomorrow, the last day of June, will surely bring a Supreme Court ruling  in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, deciding whether a for-profit corporation that is calling itself religious (as in a person) must follow federal law in permitting its insurance to provide contraception. The Court is also hearing Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, that’s fighting the same law as Hobby Lobby.  that hold the same position as Hobby Lobby.

Only some religious groups are considered exempt from this law. Hobby Lobby wants to change this.

The case addresses the question about whether one person’s “religious freedom” allows them exemption from the law and allows them to impose their religious beliefs on employees. If SCOTS favors Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities, the ramifications go far beyond allowing all employers to determine the health care for employees who pay for their insurance as part of a benefits package. All for-profit businesses could use the excuse of religion to ignore all government laws in their treatment of employees, i.e no psychiatry from Scientologist-owned businesses and no surgical coverage from Jehovah Witnesses.

Owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, are praying for freedom to make the United States a theocracy, obliterating any line between church and state. Success for the Greens would make the United States controlled by religious policy. The Greens plan to create museums, broadcasts, and public school curriculum presenting the Bible as fact and return to biblical principles in all public matters.

Conservatives like the Greens define the First Amendment mandate of religious freedom as imposing their code on those who don’t follow their faith. They have created a narrative in which they are persecuted for their faith, causing them to feel justified in repressing others under the excuse that they are only protecting themselves.

To fundamentalist Christians, religious freedom is forcing students to pray to their god in school and listen to bible stories in biology class. Teaching creationism in public schools uses taxpayer money to push one religious form of instruction on a captive audience, but conservatives reframe the argument to maintain that teaching evolution theory, a scientific fact, is religious oppression.

Funding the Hobby Lobby case is the Becket Fund, founded to protect the personal expression of religion without coercing others. the group started by protecting prisoners who wanted to have religious symbols and workers who  wanted to keep their religious hairstyles. Now the Becket Fund takes the position that religious freedom is denying employees the private use of their compensation packages.

An example of conservative “religious freedom” comes from a U.S. House candidate in Georgia. Jody Hice believes that Muslims have freedom of religion by denying that Islam is a religion. In his book, It’s Now or Never, Hice wrote: “Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

Justice Antonin Scalia has already ruled against religion in Employment Division v. Smith. When two Native Americans were denied unemployment benefits for having ingested peyote in keeping with their religious practices, Scalia wrote, “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.” Now he claims that the constitution favors religion.

The Supreme Court has already given “personhood” to corporations in First Amendment rights of free speech through unlimited donations. Through “negative free speech rights,” corporations avoided requirements for warning labels on products. That’s why cigarette companies don’t have to put photos on warning labels, the dairy industry can conceal the use of bovine growth hormones in milk production, and cell phones don’t have to have radiation warnings.

The D.C. Court of Appeals struck down a Securities and Exchange Commission rule forcing manufacturers’ disclosures if their electronics contain minerals mined from the war-torn torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The American Meat Institute is arguing against a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that requires labeling disclosing where cows are born, raised, and slaughtered. After Vermont passed a GMO labeling requirement, industry groups sued on a violation of commercial speech rights.

In the Greens’ blatant hypocrisy, Hobby Lobby provided contraception in their employer-sponsored health plans until 2012 when they decided to sue. The company’s retirement plan also includes stock holdings in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that they don’t want their employees to access through insurance plans.

Not all non-profit groups, including many Catholic schools and hospitals, receive these exemptions, and even those that receive exemptions are displeased with the method of avoiding the mandate. Last year, the Little Sisters of the Poor contended that signing a form avoiding providing employee contraceptive coverage makes the nuns responsible for such coverage. The Supreme Court ruled that they could just send in a letter stating their objections while waiting for the case to be heard by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Both the Eternal Word Television Network in Alabama and the Catholic groups in Wyoming want the same arrangement. In addition, the TV station wants the Supreme Court to hear its case before the 7th Circuit Court rules on its appeal.

There may be a schism in the justices’ attitudes toward freedom of religion cases. Recently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of parents opposed to holding Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies in a church, complete with overt displays of Christian faith and staffed tables about the church and its activities. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas strongly lobbied for the Court to hear the case and then wrote a seven-page dissent disagreeing with the seven who decided not to hear the case.

Earlier this year, SCOTUS, in 5-4 vote, agreed to allow Greece (NY) to pray before city council meetings because it was merely “ceremonial,” like saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes. Leading the dissent for Greece v. Galloway,Justice Kagan wrote:

“I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”

After the justices allowed religious prayers at a public meeting, the Huntsville (AL) City Council refused to allow a practicing Wiccan to give the opening invocation. Wilkes-Barre (PA) chooses only Christian prayers to open their city council meetings because all the members identify as Christians. Other municipalities are trying to establish policies that all prayers before council and commissioner meetings will be Christian.

The latest imposition of Christian religion on the entire population of the United States is the unanimous consent of a bill to put a Christian prayer on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. There was no floor debate and no official vote, only the opportunity to register objections. When the House considered the bill in 2011, Robert Abbey, former director of the Bureau of Land Management, gave written testimony in opposition:

“It is not a judgment as to the merit of this new commemoration, simply that altering the Memorial in this way . . . will necessarily dilute this elegant memorial’s central message and its ability to clearly convey that message to move, educate, and inspire its many visitors.”

The U.S. National Park Service says the memorial commemorates “service, sacrifice, unity, and victory.” With the addition of a Christian prayer, they will have to drop the “unity.”

When one group of people demands the government replace the religious beliefs of others with its own, religious freedom is not protected but threatened. Jefferson’s wall separating church and state doesn’t just protect government from religion; it also protects religion from government. If religions can tell the state what to do, then the state can, in turn, tell religions what to do in their own houses of worship.

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