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.

February 27, 2014

LGBT Rights v. Religion

For an entire week, the nation’s media was obsessed about Arizona’s bill that would let everyone in the state do anything they wanted as long as they said it was because of religion. The bill went to Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday, and many Republicans—including three legislators who voted in favor of it—asked her to veto it. Last night she did. According to her speech about the veto, she didn’t want to divide the state so she denied the right-wing groups their wish.

Using political-speak rather than reason, she said her veto was to stop a divide. And of course, the wacko right got very divided–against Brewer:

Fox network Tucker Carlson maintained that requiring people to provide service to everyone is “fascism.” [For those lacking a dictionary, fascism is an authoritarian nationalism that has a veneration of the state and devotion to a strong leader and invokes the primacy of the state.]

Another Fox network host, Todd Starnes, tweeted: “AZ Gov. Jan Brewer makes Christians in her state second-class citizens.”

 A tweet from Rich Lowry of the National Review: “The Brewer veto shows that poorly informed hysteria works.” He skipped the fact that the loudest protests against the bill came from the business community, usually allied with conservatives.

President of Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips: “Tyranny is on the march!” And my favorite, the veto means that bakers will be forced to sell cakes with “a giant phallic symbol on it” or cakes with another “shape of genitalia.”

Michele Bachmann claimed that Brewer “eviscerated free speech.”

According to Brewer’s speech, she is comfortable that Arizona law protects religious people from discrimination. There was no mention of the state’s discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, hospital visitation, education, health care, marriage. While claiming that people in her state didn’t suffer from religious discrimination, she still managed to figuratively shake her finger at President Obama by blaming him for the concerns in the state.

Logic tells us that protecting LGBT people had no relationship to Brewer’s decision: it was purely business.

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The NFL threatened to pull the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale (AZ), and a number of large companies had said that they would either not expand or even come to the state with SB1062. Even now, Arizona may take a hit as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton suggested. He said, “The negative national and international publicity that our state has already received — it sends a message that our state is not a warm, welcoming place.” The Hispanic National Bar Assocation has already pulled its 2015 national convention.

Another reason for Brewer to veto the bill is highly personal. She became governor after then-governor Janet Napolitano was tapped for the director of the Department of Homeland Security. Her win a year later seemed unlikely until she signed into law the discriminatory anti-immigrant profiling bill. Her GOP opposition dissipated, and she defeated long-time Democratic icon AG Terry Goddard. The state constitution limits governors to two terms, but Brewer has always maintained that she has served only one term. Thus far, eight GOP gubernatorial candidates have signed up for the primary. Some believe that her vetoing the bill indicates she won’t be running, yet her action has gained her support from some of the most powerful GOP leaders both inside and outside Arizona.

Although Arizona got massive publicity from passing its bill in the legislature,  a similar bill was already passed in the Mississippi Senate—with no hoop-la. After the Arizona debacle, Democrats are backing off, such as Sen. David Blount who said he didn’t know that the bill to change the state seal included discrimination. The 2.5-page bill clearly stated that the religious right would discriminate; the following one-page provision added “In God We Trust” to the state seal. Blount added that no one else knew the bill was discriminatory. The debate on the floor did concern issues such as people “praying facing Mecca” and religious liberty for “devil worshipping” and “voodoo.”

The bill has moved to the Judiciary B Committee. Its chair, Rep. Andy Gipson, once invoked a biblical passage asking for the death penalty for gays. If the bill passes the House, it moves to the governor, Phil Bryant, who has violated a federal order by denying spousal benefits to same-sex National Guard spouses.

Then there’s Georgia, another state that wants to get in on the discrimination action with a similar bill. The Preservation of Religious Freedoms Act would erase a law in Atlanta that protects LGBT people in lodging, housing, and employment. The shotgun approach is like that of the Arizona bill: any person or business can discriminate against anyone. Based in Atlanta, Delta Airlines is one company that has spoken out against the bill.

Georgia has tabled its “freedom act,” taking it off the calendar. Mississippi is considering a re-wording of its “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” perhaps because the state’s chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council, has issued a statement against discrimination by businesses.

The lead author of a similar bill in Oklahoma said he will re-write it, and Ohio has withdrawn its anti-LGBT legislation. Idaho Deputy AG Brian Kane told legislators that their proposed “religious freedom” bills would have constitutional problems. Kansas withdrew its bill after it passed the state House but before the Arizona bill was passed. In Maine, both legislative chambers voted down a bill similar to that in Arizona. Tennessee’s bill suffered serious backlash from the business community and disappeared, as did one in South Dakota. A state representative has filed an Arizona bill in Missouri. In all, 13 states have introduced so-called religious anti-LGBT bills in less than two months.

Oregon is unique in the discrimination game. Instead of a legislative bill, the proposed measure for the 2014 ballot comes from a religious group that claims it only wants to protect businesses from having to provide services at a same-sex wedding or commitment ceremony. In order for the initiative to be on the ballot, the group must collect 116,284 valid signatures by July 5, and signature-gatherers can’t begin until the state AG determines a 15-word title for the ballot. A measure to overturn the constitutional ban on marriage equality in Oregon has already obtained over 160,000 signatures.

Many people in Oregon think that the initiatives attempting to discriminate against LGBT people in the state actually benefited the community. Threatened by the far-right in the 1990s, lesbians and gays came out of the closet to fight the measures, created alliances, and increased support by becoming visible. One of the men who pushed anti-LGBT laws in Oregon, Scott Lively, left the state and moved his mission to other countries, including Russia and Uganda where LGBT people can be physically abused and sent to prison with the sanction of the government.

The large number of big businesses that opposed the Arizona bill is also a positive affirmation of LGBT people. A solar company fired Jack Burkman as its lobbyist after he said he would push for legislation to stop the NFL from having gay players. Meanwhile, federal courts continue to rule in favor of marriage equality, the most recent Texas. This map shows the status of marriage equality in separate states—at least today! 

map of states marriage equalityUsing religion to justify bigotry is not new. Segregationists used the same argument, often in the U.S. Congress. As late as the 1970s, Bob Jones University excluded blacks and then let them enroll if they were married. When they allowed unmarried blacks to attend the religious school, they prohibited interracial relationships, trying to keep federal subsidies by claiming that their racism came from religious beliefs. The Supreme Court finally struck down the argument of using religious beliefs for racial discrimination. As the court decided, religious liberty is important, but it should not be allowed to eradicate the rights of others. 

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