The Supreme Court just can’t seem to quit the Affordable Care Act.
On Tuesday, it announced it would hear challenges to the law’s “contraception mandate,” which requires employers that provide health insurance to include contraceptives in their plans, including birth control pills and emergency contraception. At stake is whether for-profit companies can be exempted from the mandate because of their owner’s religious beliefs.
This controversy centers on a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby, an arts & crafts chain whose owners—David Green and his family—are devout Christians who believe life begins at conception and that using certain kinds of birth control violates their religious beliefs.
Obamacare contains an exemption for churches and other religious nonprofits, but the Greens want it extended to for-profit companies like their own, who are otherwise required to include FDA-approved contraceptives in their health insurance plans. They claim that the requirement would “substantially burden” their ability to practice their religion.
This gets to the core of the lawsuit. Hobby Lobby isn’t just fighting for an exemption from the contraception mandate, it’s arguing that, as a business, it shares in its owners religious beliefs and has its rights as a corporate person protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining if the free exercise clause of the First Amendment has been violated. By requiring companies to cover women’s contraception, Hobby Lobby argues, the federal government is violating their religious rights. In short, the Greens are asking the court to classify for-profit corporations as having religious consciences.
It should be said that the Greens aren’t Catholics; they’re evangelical Christians who don’t share Catholicism’s doctrinal opposition to birth control. Condoms and diaphragms aren’t an issue. Instead, the Greens—who see fertilized eggs as persons—object to Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception, which they believe prevent embryo implantation in a woman’s womb, and are tantamount to abortion.
But medical science is clear: emergency contraception is not an abortifacient. As explained in an amicus brief by Physicians for Reproductive Health, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining, a process that occurs within five to nine days of sexual intercourse, if the egg is fertilized. “Emergency contraception,” notes the organization, “refers to a drug or device that is used after intercourse, but before pregnancy, to prevent pregnancy from occurring.” Abortifacients, by contrast, are used to terminate an existing pregnancy.
According to the brief, the two FDA-approved forms of emergency contraception—Plan B and “ella”—work by preventing, disrupting, or prohibiting ovulation, which stops fertilization altogether. In the doses approved for contraceptive use, neither terminates a pregnancy.
This is important. For Catholic groups, who oppose all contraception regardless of circumstance, the science is irrelevant. The mechanism of birth control is less important than the theological commitment to all pregnancies. But evangelicals—like the Greens—are in a different boat. Their objection depends on the science of pregnancy. If what’s true—emergency contraception doesn’t cause abortion—contradicts their beliefs, then what basis do they have for the objection? It’s fine if the Greens oppose abortion out of their sincere religious convictions—they can believe whatever they want—but that doesn’t give them license to redefine abortion (or contraception) to fit those beliefs.
Indeed, allowing them the privilege opens the door to a whole host of actions that would burden the liberty—religious or otherwise—of employees or customers. In a world where corporations have First Amendment protections for their religious beliefs, can they win exemptions for any law they disagree with? If Congress passes the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, can Hobby Lobby decline to follow its dictates—and say, refuse to hire to gays and lesbians—out of its sincere religious beliefs? Could it refuse to hire blacks out of a belief that they are cursed by God?
This is all on top of the implications for employees. If you work at Hobby Lobby, could the company require you to attend Bible study? What if your employer is a Christian Scientist? Could they refuse to provide health insurance at all, citing their religious beliefs? These become real scenarios if the Court decides that belief trumps all other considerations, including actual fact.
Over the last few years, corporations have accumulated more and more power, under the guise of “freedom.” At the moment, employers can fire employees for their political views, require employees to attend political rallies, and even volunteer for candidates they disagree with. Hobby Lobby is asking the Supreme Court to extend this even further, to forcing employees to choose health insurance that matches the religious preferences of their employers.
All of this raises important questions. Is this about securing religious liberty, or expanding it for a particular group? And if it’s the latter, is Hobby Lobby fighting for “liberty,” or is it demanding the right to oppress?
By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2013
“Expanding Conservative Religious Fanaticism”: The Contraception Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception
Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.
Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.
Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.
In the 1970s, the “Masters and Johnson of Christianity,” Ed and Gaye Wheat, published Intended for Pleasure, a bestselling Christian sex manual with a chapter on “planning and achieving parenthood,” with extensive information about artificial contraceptive methods. Alfred Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed in 2006 that although the “birth control revolution…let loose a firestorm of sexual promiscuity,” it also “offered thoughtful and careful couples an opportunity to enjoy the joys and fulfillments of the marital act without remaining at all times equally open to pregnancy.” A Guttmacher Institute report released in 2011 revealed that three-quarters of Protestant American women were using some form of artificial birth control.
When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.
It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.
By: Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, The American Prospect, November 26, 2013
The Republican Party has reached its Ninotchka period. Ninotchka, you may recall, was the eponymous Soviet commissar played by Greta Garbo in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 MGM comedy, released one year after Stalin’s show trials resulted in the execution of all of the tyrant’s more moderate predecessors in the Soviet leadership. “The last mass trials were a great success,” Ninotchka notes. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Like the Stalinists and the Jacobins, today’s tea party zealots have purified their movement — not by executing but by driving away those Republicans who don’t share their enthusiasm for wrecking their country if they can’t compel the majority to embrace their notions. Today, there are fewer but “better” Republicans — if “better” means adhering to the tea party view that a United States not adhering to tea party values deserves to be brought to a clangorous halt. NBC News-Wall Street Journal polling last week turned up a bare 24 percent of Americans who have a favorable impression of the Republican Party — a share almost as low as the 21 percent who have a favorable impression of the tea party.
Also like the Stalinists and Jacobins, today’s Republicans devour their past leaders. To the hard-core right wing, the Bushes, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole and John McCain are irritating vestiges of the party’s pussyfooting past; none was sufficiently devoted to rolling back the federal government when he had the chance. Thankfully, the Bushes et al. haven’t met the fate of Bukharin and Danton — but they are as conspicuously absent from today’s Republican rallies and state conventions as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are conspicuously present.
If anything illustrates just how far today’s Republicans have drifted from their traditional moorings, it’s the dismay with which their longtime business allies have greeted their decisions to close the government and threaten default. Such pillars of the Republican coalition as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation have called for an end to the shutdown and an increase in the debt limit. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, told The Post last week that his organization is considering backing primary challenges to tea party incumbents.
Today’s tea party-ized Republicans speak less for Wall Street or Main Street than they do for the seething resentments of white Southern backwaters and their geographically widespread but ideologically uniform ilk. Their theory of government, to the extent that they have one, derives from John C. Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification — that states in general and white minorities in particular should have the right to overturn federal law and impede majority rule. Like their predecessors in the Jim Crow South, today’s Republicans favor restricting minority voting rights if that is necessary to ensure victory at the polls.
The remarkable resurgence of these ancient and despicable doctrines is rooted in the politics of demographic and cultural despair. A series of focus groups that Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg conducted of evangelical and tea party Republicans (who, combined, constitute a majority of party members) found that they entertain a widespread and fatalistic belief that the United States is well on its way to becoming a socialist state by virtue of the growing number of non-white Americans’ dependence on government. Encapsulating the groups’ perspectives, Greenberg writes: “Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities.”
It does not register with these Republicans that Obamacare, which facilitates more widespread access to privatized insurance, is nowhere as socialistic as Medicare and Social Security. It seems that some believe that Obamacare is socialistic because they fear it will chiefly benefit the welfare queens of Republican lore, while Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries include millions of deserving people just like them — the disproportionately elderly and white Republican Party’s members.
It should not have been surprising, then, that demonstrators waved Confederate flags at the tea party demonstration Sunday on the Mall while demanding that congressional Republicans not succumb to the pressure to compromise and that the Obama administration open the Mall’s monuments, the World War II memorial in particular. The tea party’s theory of government and the fear and loathing that many adherents harbor toward minorities find a truer expression in the Confederate flag than in the Stars and Stripes.
It’s not clear whether those waving the Confederate flag on Sunday favored opening the Lincoln Memorial. I suspect, however, that the Republican enshrined there wouldn’t have favored them.
By: Harol Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 15, 2013
“The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways”: FEC Investigation Into Michele Bachmann’s Election Campaign Now Focusing On Marcus
In 2011, Michele Bachmann claimed God spoke to her and told her to run for president. Apparently, the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Minnesota Congresswoman’s presidential campaign was a disaster on the inside even more than on the outside, as evidenced by all the ethics investigations she’s facing. Now Marcus Bachmann, the Congresswoman’s husband, is the subject of a Federal Elections Commission investigation, according to the New York Times.
“The latest is a federal inquiry into whether an outside ‘super PAC’ improperly coordinated strategy with Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign staff, including her husband, in violation of election laws,” the Times reports
In a complaint to the F.E.C. in February, Peter Waldron, a Florida Republican operative hired to enlist evangelical Iowa pastors, described overhearing the president of the super PAC ask Brett O’Donnell, a senior campaign adviser, about radio and TV stations.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Waldron said Mr. O’Donnell had replied, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Election law prohibits substantial coordination, though not all contacts, between campaigns and super PACS, Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Waldron, who calls himself a whistle-blower, also disclosed an e-mail from Mr. Bachmann describing a phone call Mr. Bachmann made to a donor asking for $7,000. In the e-mail, Mr. Bachmann wrote that the donor had agreed to give the money through the super PAC. He concluded: “Praise the Lord!! Thank you Peter for your servant leadership.”
Mr. Ryan said the call appeared to violate a rule against campaign staff members raising more than $5,000 for a super PAC.
Even the Times notes Waldron “has a controversial past,” and adds:
In 2006 he was jailed briefly in Uganda for possession of assault rifles, according to news reports. In the 1990s he led a Florida youth charity that received more than $600,000 in state and local grants before it collapsed amid questions about its effectiveness, according to The St. Petersburg Times, now The Tampa Bay Times.
But there’s so much more.
Waldron, who one year before the 2012 elections announced that the Holy Ghost had told him Michele Bachmann is the one for president, just published a new book, Bachmannistan: Behind The Lines, that claims Rep. Bachmann fired a staffer who had seven children, and another on the way, on Christmas eve.
Christian family values?
By: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, September 6, 2013