Nel's New Day

August 3, 2014

Hobby Lobby Won’t Go Away

The memory of most Supreme Court rulings fade fairly fast, but the Hobby Lobby decision is still in the media more than a month after the Supreme Court eroded women’s reproductive rights by declaring that corporations have religious rights. A prediction that the ruling might lead to dire circumstances is beginning to bear fruit:.

The Satanic Temple is seeking religious exemption from laws restricting access to abortions, which violate its members’ religious freedom. The basis for their argument is Alito’s statement that religious beliefs can trump scientific fact. When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed in the early 1990s, far-right Christians were afraid that women’s rights to plan their families might be considered a matter of religious conscience.” The Supreme Court has thrown the door open for this argument.

People shouldn’t have to pay student loans. Interest in the Bible is usury and considered sinful, and all debts must be forgiven every few years in the “Year of Jubilee,” according to the same source. Christians following the Bible shouldn’t be forced to pay interest or return the money after the few years.

Members of the Alabama Public Service Commission have called on the public to pray to God for protection from the new EPA limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Member-elect Chip Beeker asked, “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” They might be able to sue for relief under the Hobby Lobby sincerely-held religious belief. Arguments from religious beliefs on the opposite side could be that God wants people to be healthy.

The IRS is required to enforce rules banning pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit after the Freedom from Religion Foundation won its lawsuit. Although advocating for candidates in church is against the law, the IRS wasn’t stopping the practice. Unfortunately, the court decision in favor of FFRF won’t go into effect immediately because of a current moratorium on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities. Pastors could avoid the law by claiming that churches are only using their “sincerely-held” religious beliefs to campaign for—or against—candidates.

After President Obama announced that he was requiring federal contractors to end job discrimination against LGBT people, religiously affiliated institutions came out of the woodwork, asking for religious exemptions. President Obama declared no exemptions except for the religious exemptions that George W. Bush had earlier allowed. Bush hadn’t included corporations in his exemptions. Yet the president’s order could be overturned for “religious” for-profit corporations because of Hobby Lobby.

Sara Hellwege is suing the Tampa Family Health Centers (TFHC) for not giving her a job interview after she told them that she would not prescribe any hormonal contraction. She claims that the women’s clinic is discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. Hellwegg is demanding $400,000 in damages, $75,000 in fines, and forfeiture of all federal funding until the company stops discrimination—evidently against people who won’t perform the job’s duties.

A  lawsuit on behalf of two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay claims that a definition of corporations as people with religious rights extends to Gitmo detainees. Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen were prevented from attending communal Ramadan prayer because they were on a hunger strike. Two earlier D.C. Circuit decisions had ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not “persons” under RFRA protection. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religious beliefs under RFRA, then so can these two men, according to their lawyers.

The U.S. Department of Education has continued to grant exemptions to “Christian” universities, allowing them to discriminate against transgender students. According to Title IX, schools cannot receive federal funds, including public student loans and Pell grants, if they discriminate against transgender and gender-nonconforming students—unless they’re religious like George Fox University, Simpson University, and Spring Arbor University. Simpson, for example, cannot “support or encourage” an individual who lives in “conflict with biblical principles.” Spring Arbor has been given permission to discriminate against unwed mothers and punish students for dating someone of the same gender. For-profit corporations will surely want the same “religious” rights as these universities.

These are just a few of the “unintended consequences” that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to in her dissenting opinion. Speaking about the case in an interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg said that the five men who ruled against women’s rights have a “blind spot” about women’s issues and that they didn’t understand “the ramifications of their decision.” Anyone who considers that these consequences are impossible should consider that people said the same thing about a favorable ruling for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby.

Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling that the Hobby Lobby is a “person” comes from the 1871 Dictionary Act that tried to simplify constitutional language. The statement that such terms as corporations and companies come under the umbrella of “person” was limited by the statement “unless the context indicates otherwise.” Alito’s ruling combined this act with RFRA, but the exemptions in the RFRA are defined as one that “holds itself out as a religious organization.” Hobby Lobby is not a religious organization: it sells crafts.

RFRA was legislated to protect employees, not employers. It was initiated because of an employer’s prejudice against a non-Christian religion. SCOTUS turned the protection on its head, protecting Christian employers against all employees Christian and non-Christian. An actual human person doesn’t have the ability or right to force everyone around him to abide by the restrictions of his religion, even if those people work for him. but it seems that Hobby Lobby does. By allowing closely held corporations to take on a religious identity, Alito has allowed their owners to impose their religions on the people who work for them.

Ginsburg wrote in her Hobby Lobby dissent:

“Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

The Hobby Lobby decision is more about ensuring that women will maintain a subservient position in U.S. culture as summarized in Erick Erickson’s tweet: “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.” The “consequence” of “free sex” for women can be loss of jobs, loss of education, loss of financial security—in short, loss of everything. Even Hobby Lobby fired a pregnant woman. Men, on the other hand, have no consequence from “free sex.”

Although contraception could put women on a more equal footing with men, the Supreme Court forces many women to buy their own contraception. Hobby Lobby objected to only four types of contraception, but the five male justices “protected” corporations from having insurance for all 20 forms of FDA-approved contraception. When men have “free sex” and women have to pay for it, men retain their power over women.

After the Hobby Lobby decision, male conservatives spent a great deal of time salivating about the thought of all those “slutty” women who were restricted in their access of contraception. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) complained about women using birth control to protect themselves from “recreational behavior.”

Not one of these misogynists mentioned protecting women from uterine cancer or ovarian cysts or anemia or endometriosis or other health problems needing hormonal medication.

As Ginsburg stated, Hobby Lobby begins the practice of preferring some religions over others. Now justices will be “evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims” and “approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodations.” The website for The Becket Fund shows a current list of litigants already taking advantage of Hobby Lobby. These cases have a high cost—women paying a minimum of millions for contraception and taxpayers paying billions for court cases.

The only ray of hope is that Justice Alito decided the case on the basis of a Congressional statute. If the ruling had been constitutional, it could be changed only by a constitutional amendment. As it stands, Congress can fix it by defining “person” and “exercise of religion” in RFRA. With our current dysfunctional and religious-conservative Congress, this ray is only a glimmer.

Sens. Patty Murry (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill called “Not My Bosses’ Business Act” to prevent for-profit businesses from dropping birth control coverage. Republicans blocked the bill with only GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mark Kirk (IL), and Susan Collins (ME) voting to move the bill forward. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supported the bill to override the Hobby Lobby decision.  A professional physicians’ association with more than 55,000 members, the group represents 90 percent of board-certified U.S. gynecologists. Their statement explained that “a woman’s boss has no role to play in her personal health care decisions.”

Wooing women with obfuscation, the GOP plans to sponsor a bill stating “no employer can block any employee from legal access to her FDA-approved contraceptives.” Birth control is already legal: Hobby Lobby is about the right of for-profit companies to deny contraception through its insurance.  With the federal government not moving ahead on women’s reproductive rights, states may begin initiating nullification laws against the Hobby Lobby decision.

In the future, a more reasonable Congress might decide that women should have equality in the United States. It’s better than waiting for a constitutional amendment like Citizens United demands.

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