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“Pillars Of Moral Values”: Hey, Hobby Lobby Boss; Thou Shalt Not Steal

In their brief to the Supreme Court defending their “right” to deny their employees access to contraception, Hobby Lobby owner David Green and his family asserted (PDF) their principles of “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

Apparently, that doesn’t include “Thou shall not steal.”

According to an exclusive by The Daily Beast’s Candida Moss and Joel Baden, the Green family has been under investigation by the federal government for smuggling antiquities. Moss and Baden report:

A senior law enforcement source with extensive knowledge of antiquities smuggling confirmed that these ancient artifacts had been purchased and were being imported by the deeply-religious owners of the crafting giant, the Green family of Oklahoma City. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq.

In 2011, a shipment of several hundred clay tablets was seized by U.S. customs agents in Memphis. The tablets, which had been shipped from Israel, were inscribed in cuneiform, the ancient script of Assyria and Babylonia in what is now present-day Iraq. And the tablets were confirmed to be several thousand years old. Yet on the customs filings, the Greens had listed the contents of the shipment as “hand-crafted clay tiles”—which was true, technically, but pretty damn misleading. Moss and Baden draw an analogy to another recent customs scandal in which a Picasso worth $15 million was shipped into the United States with a custom declaration form saying it was a “handicraft.” Again, technically true. But a deception meant to evade the scrutiny of customs officials.

So much for “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

The tablets were supposedly intended to join some 40,000 or so ancient artifacts the Green family owns and will include in the Museum of the Bible, which the family is funding and will open in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

Of course the perverse irony in all of this comes from the fact that the Green family won its historic Hobby Lobby lawsuit in the Supreme Court, establishing that corporations, which are people, too, can have religion and thus claim religious exemptions under the law. And now we have the same family allegedly breaking the law in order to build a religious museum that reflects their values. Hot damn, that’s some audacity.

Recall that in the Hobby Lobby case, the Green family didn’t want its employees to be able to access certain types of contraception under the company’s insurance plan. Prior to filing their suit, Hobby Lobby’s insurance had in fact covered such contraception and the medical and scientific community agrees that those forms of contraception are not equivalent to abortion. But the Greens asserted their personal opinion as fact, attached them to their business and used their supposed “fundamental values” to fundamentally upend the course of corporate jurisprudence and civil rights in America. Perhaps all while they were stealing religious antiquities from Iraq.

What remains unclear is how the Greens came by the antiquities in the first place. Were they outright stolen? Or purchased in the black market, from some shady group? At best, the Greens are taking the cultural heritage of Iraq. At worst, the Greens are wittingly or unwittingly supporting some really bad actors over there.

Personally, I would usually think myself above this sort of finger pointing and eyebrow raising. But the Greens brought this on themselves, not simply by illegally importing antiquities from Iraq but by doing so while promoting themselves as pillars of moral values—and altering the entire legal precedent of the United States to impose their values on others. You know how they say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Well, people who want to use their narrowly construed extremist religious views to deny basic reproductive rights to women shouldn’t flout the most universal of religious principles by stealing and lying.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justice Ginsburg Was Right”: Hobby Lobby Decision; Already Wreaking Havoc

One of the hallmarks of the ongoing conservative legal revolution is that judicial decisions with enormous consequences are often downplayed by their engineers as just another day at the office (Citizens United, Carhart v. Gonzales), or as having no significance as precedent (Bush v. Gore). As Jeff Toobin explains at the New Yorker, the same phenomenon is occurring with respect to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Justice Samuel Alito insisted, in his opinion for the Court, that his decision would be very limited in its effect. Responding to the dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called it “a decision of startling breadth,” Alito wrote, “Our holding is very specific. We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs….’ ”

A sampling of court actions since Hobby Lobby suggests that Ginsburg has the better of the argument. She was right: the decision is opening the door for the religiously observant to claim privileges that are not available to anyone else.

One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet.

The Supreme Court itself has suggested that the implications of Hobby Lobby were broader than Alito originally let on. Just days after the decision, the Court’s majority allowed Wheaton College, which is religiously oriented, to refuse to fill out a form asking for an exemption from the birth-control mandate—while retaining the exemption. There is another case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, which is also pending, where a religious order asserts that the filling out of a form (which, if granted, would exempt them from the law’s requirements) violates their rights.

If just filling out a form can count as a “substantial burden,” it’s hard to imagine any obligation that would not.

It looks like the Court will soon have abundant opportunities to prove Ginsberg was absolutely right.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Editor, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Hobby Lobby, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Have No Good Answer”: New Hobby Lobby Fix Puts Republicans In A Bind

In response to the Hobby Lobby case, the White House has implemented a fix to allow institutions and corporations who object even to a funding bypass on contraception coverage for employees. The fix is an overly complex workaround necessitated by the Supreme Court’s bizarre ruling that corporations have 1st Amendment religious rights, and can enforce those rights by refusing not only to provide contraception coverage, but even to enter into an agreement by which the government would provide contraception coverage for them.

The case puts conservative legislators in a bind: most people do not, in fact, believe that corporations should have religious rights. Most people don’t believe that contraception is a bad thing, or that employers should get to interfere in whether an employee’s insurance can cover contraception.

Republican lawmakers who claim to be moderates on reproductive rights are especially challenged. Many Republicans who claim to have a more tolerant philosophy on reproductive freedom nevertheless cast votes that align with their more extreme partisan counterparts, and paper it over by saying that they aren’t trying to ban abortion or contraception, but simply that they’re trying to make it “safer.”

The Hobby Lobby case removes that cover. Either you think it’s OK for corporation to decide not to cover birth control out of extremist religious objection, or you don’t. Take the case of Jeff Gorell, Republican Assemblymember in California and candidate for Congress against freshman Congresswoman Julia Brownley. Gorell calls himself “pro-choice” even though he has a 0% rating with Planned Parenthood, and a 90% rating from the California Pro-Life Council. He has been silent on the Hobby Lobby case despite repeated requests for comment. There’s even video of him stonewalling a questioner on the subject.

My tweets to both the NRCC and Mr. Gorell have also gone without response.

They’re silent, of course, because they have no good answer. If Mr. Gorell and Republicans like him all across America stand with Scalia and Alito on Hobby Lobby, they will betray themselves as far too extreme for the voters of their districts. If they disagree with the ruling, their rabid Tea Party base will stay home or actively nip at their heels from the right.

So they just hope the issue will go away and people will stop talking about it. It won’t, of course. Republicans across the board will eventually have to take a stand on whether they think corporations should have the religious right to prevent their employees from receiving birth control coverage.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 23, 2014

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The High Court’s Highhandedness”: Rulings Are Based Less In Law Than In The Personal Beliefs Of The Men On The Tribunal

It is a case of Supreme hypocrisy.

The adjective refers to that nine-person tribunal at the top of the American legal system, the noun to its latest act of judicial malpractice. Meaning not the notorious Hobby Lobby decision handed down at the end of June, but a less-noticed ruling a few days later.

We have to revisit the former to provide context for the latter. On June 30, the court ruled that a “closely held” corporation may deny employees health insurance covering any contraceptive method that conflicts with the company’s religious beliefs. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito faulted the government for failing, under the Affordable Care Act, to choose the “least restrictive” means of ensuring women access to all FDA-approved methods of birth control. He pointed out that the ACA already makes an exemption for nonprofit groups with religious objections; simply fill out a form certifying those objections and they are relieved from having to provide the disputed contraceptives.

Alito saw this as a win-win. Employees get the birth control they want — they pay directly to the insurance company — but the government does not “impinge” on the organization’s religious beliefs.

Three days later, the court issued an injunction freeing a Christian school — Wheaton College in Illinois — from having to fill out the certification form. The school had argued that simply doing the paperwork — the form asks only for name, contact information, signature and date — infringed upon its religious liberty because it would trigger the employee’s ability to get the disputed contraception. So the same form that the court held to be a reasonable compromise on Monday was judged an unreasonable burden on Thursday. Or as Justice Sonia Sotomayor put it in a withering dissent, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

Indeed, the malleability of the court’s logic suggests these rulings are based less in law than in the personal beliefs of the men on the tribunal. One gets the sense they chose the desired result first, then backfilled whatever “reasoning” would get them there.

Which is not just Supreme hypocrisy, but also Supreme faithlessness. And, yes, Supreme sexism.

I once saw a protest sign to the effect that if men gave birth, contraception would be bacon flavored and dispensed from vending machines. Can anyone argue the truth in that? Would we even be having this debate if some company had a religious objection to Viagra — or vasectomies?

And how far down the line must a company’s religious scruples be honored anyway? If it is too much to ask Wheaton College to fill out a form because an employee will be “triggered” to buy contraception on her own, does the school also have a right to scrutinize and approve other purchases made with the salary she earns from them? If she buys whiskey or pornography with “their” money, does the school have a right to object?

Not to mention the frightening precedent the court is setting in the name of religious liberty. It makes faith a potential get-out-of-jail-free card, exempting the holder from any law he finds onerous. Given that Mormons once embraced a theology of racism and evangelical Christians still deny basic freedoms to gay people, the danger of this is obvious.

In its rush to confer personhood on organizations and constrain women’s choices, the court steers us toward a day in which corporate rights would trump human rights and you could no longer take for granted that you would be served by a given business without first checking to make sure you didn’t offend the owner’s religious sensibilities. It’s hard to imagine what that world would be like.

Pretty soon, we may not have to.

 

BY: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Syndicated Columnist, The Miami Herald; Published in The Seattle Times, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who’s Paying The Premiums?”: Health Insurance Is Not A Favor Your Boss Does For You

The debate over the Hobby Lobby case has been plagued by many problematic presumptions, but there’s one that even many people who disliked the decision seem to sign on to without thinking about it. It’s the idea that the health insurance you get through your employer is something that they do for you—not just administratively, but in a complete sense. But this is utterly wrong. You work, and in exchange for that labor you are given a compensation package that includes salary and certain benefits like a retirement account and health coverage. Like the other forms of compensation, the details of that insurance are subject to negotiation between you and your employer, and the government’s involvement is to set some minimums—just as it mandates a minimum wage, it mandates certain components health insurance must include.

Those who support Hobby Lobby are now talking as though mandating that insurance include preventive care is tantamount to them forcing you to make a contribution to your local food bank when you’d rather give to the pet shelter. You can see it, for instance, in this piece by Megan McArdle in which she tries to look at the clash of rights involved in this dispute, but running through the whole piece is the idea that an employee’s health insurance isn’t compensation for her labor but a piece of charity her boss has bestowed upon her for no reason other than the goodness of his heart. Referring to the question of whether the religious beliefs of  Hobby Lobby’s owners are being imposed on its employees, she writes: “How is not buying you something equivalent to ‘imposing’ on you?” Then later she refers to “a positive right to have birth control purchased for me.”

But when your insurance coverage includes birth control, your employer isn’t “buying you” anything. Your employer is basically acting as an administrative middleman between you and the insurance company. Your employer isn’t the one whose money is paying the premiums, you are. It’s compensation for the work you’ve done, just as much as your salary is.

This goes all the way back to to the roots of our employer-based insurance system. During World War II, the government imposed wage and price controls, meaning employers couldn’t give raises. So they began to offer health insurance as an alternate form of compensation, and when the IRS decided in 1943 that insurance could be paid with pre-tax dollars, it made it all the more attractive as a form of compensation. And keep in mind that the preferential tax treatment of health insurance (which the self-employed don’t get) is a tax benefit to the employee, not the employer. If you eliminated it, employers’ balance sheets would stay the same (it would still be counted as an expense), but employees would have to pay taxes on the benefit.

You might or might not think that remembering the true nature of the insurance benefit should change the calculation in the Hobby Lobby case. I’m guessing that for the plaintiffs, it wouldn’t; they’d probably argue that even having to think about what sinful harlots their employees are imposes a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom. And as I’ve argued before, we should get rid of the employer-based insurance system entirely. That may happen eventually, but in the meantime, it’s good to remember just whose health insurance it is. It’s not your boss’. It’s yours.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 9, 2014

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Health Insurance, Hobby Lobby, Women's Health | , , , | Leave a comment

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