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“Endangering Health And Lives”: How Hobby Lobby Undermines All Americans’ Freedom

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case demonstrates that the court, at least the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, has little concern for, and probably little understanding of, women’s health care. By ruling that corporations, on the grounds of the alleged religious views of their owners, can deny women access to some forms of contraception, the court set a horrible precedent that if followed will endanger the health and lives of many American women.

The Hobby Lobby ruling may at first seem like a victory for the minority of Americans who think that both abortion and contraception should be illegal, and for those who believe that the US should operate more as a theocracy than a country where state and church are separate. However, the ruling not only is terrible news for women seeking a guarantee of good healthcare through their employer, but also for anybody who believes in personal freedom.

In the US, where health insurance is linked to employment, health insurance is part of the compensation package. When most Americans are about to start a new job, or choosing between two or more jobs, one of the first questions they ask is about the quality of the health insurance they will get. In most cases, health insurance varies because some companies offer plans with lower co-pays, better dental care or things like that. Firms that deny dental care are doing it because of concerns about costs, not because they have an ethical or religious problem with healthy teeth. Hobby Lobby is doing something different, denying women access to some forms of health care because of the personal beliefs of the people who run the company.

This decision raises the question of whether the Supreme Court will next rule that employers can tell workers how to spend the money they earn at their jobs. This sounds a bit extreme, but in a very real way that is precisely what the court just did. By limiting how workers can use some of their compensation, the court, despite its own assertions that it was not setting a precedent, opened the door for further limitations. If Hobby Lobby can tell people how they can or cannot use their health care benefits, why can’t they also tell people they can’t, for example, use their salaries to donate to pro-choice political candidates or pro-marriage equality causes? The answer, one would think, would be obvious, but the recent court decision makes it considerably less clear.

The Republican Party has long, if not always sincerely, repeated a mantra of individual freedom, but the Hobby Lobby decision, in which all five justices who formed the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, undermines that. A central belief of all Republican politicians is that Americans should have a right to do what they want with, and keep as much as possible of, their hard-earned money. The Supreme Court made a big move against that idea this week, but the outrage from the Republican side has been absent.

Conservative opposition to healthcare have consistently argued that decisions about health care should be made by patients and doctors, not by the government. The death panel hysteria that Sarah Palin unleashed on the American people a few years ago took that point to a nutty extreme. After last week, conservatives who support Hobby Lobby should probably change their position and argue that health care decisions should be made not by a patient’s doctor, but by a patient’s employer. Similarly, for supporters of the Hobby Lobby decision, the new mantra of individual freedom should now be that Americans should be allowed to do whatever they want with their hard earned money, as long as their boss approves, but somehow that seems an unlikely campaign slogan for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

The Hobby Lobby decision is about women’s health care and individual freedom, but it also is another sign of the consolidation of power by big corporations in the US. It is now legal for corporations to deny workers important medical services, and redefine their compensation packages, simply because, religious claims aside, they want to. During a very tenuous recovery in which real wages have not recovered, unemployment remains high and economic uncertainty on the part of working Americans is an enormous problem, the Supreme Court just gave more rights to corporations while taking wealth, as health care benefits are a form of wealth, out of the hands of working Americans.

 

By: Lincoln Mitchell, The Huffington Post Blog, July 6, 2014

 

 

 

July 7, 2014 Posted by | Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Increasingly Out Of Touch”: Hobby Lobby Shows The Need For A More Diverse Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court ended its most recent judicial term this week in a characteristically dramatic fashion. The Court often leaves the most contentious and controversial cases to be decided last, and this year was no exception. A deeply divided Court split 5-4 over the hashtag-friendly Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, an innocuous name that perhaps doesn’t accurately reflect the polemical questions which lie at the heart of the Justices’ deliberations, namely striking the appropriate balance between religious conviction and access to contraception.

The impact of the decision cannot really be known until the United States’ relatively new national health insurance scheme (aka ‘Obamacare‘) has been fully implemented. In essence, the Justices ruled that a specific subset of corporations — those that are ‘closely-held,’ which often means small and family-owned — could not be compelled to provide insurance coverage for certain methods of birth control if the owners of such companies judged such coverage to be ‘incompatible’ with ‘sincerely-held’ religious beliefs. However, the Court suggested that United States government could step into the breach and provide coverage as necessary.

To non-American audiences, the outrage that this decision has provoked may seem bewildering. Yet the ruling affects three things that are cultural touchstones in the United States: access to health insurance (or the lack thereof), religious freedom, and reproductive rights. The dissenting justices opined that it was a decision of ‘startling breadth’, which might essentially legalise future discriminatory practices by corporations, so long as they claimed a violation of their convictions. This may or may not prove to be the case; nonetheless, additional legal challenges to Obamacare’s provisions are a foregone conclusion.

Of perhaps more immediate relevance than trying to guess at the decision’s eventual impact is speculative analysis of the Justices’ motivations. The companies which brought suit in the Hobby Lobby case are run by people who identify with conservative Christian ideologies. The five male Justices who made up the majority in the case all identify as Roman Catholic, and are 59 years of age or older. There is no way to know how much their personal beliefs inform their decisionmaking in this particular case, but it’s not implausible to suggest a correlation. It is reasonable to wonder if the Court would have split on similar lines had the religious convictions under examination been Muslim, Jewish or Mormon.

The Court’s three female Justices found themselves in the liberal minority on the case, as they often do with decisions that touch upon hot-button cultural issues. It was predicted that they would vote in favour of unimpeded access to contraception, and it’s easy to dismiss their votes as influenced simply by gender — after all, birth control is still seen largely as a woman’s responsibility, however inequitable this may be. This is unquestionably an over-simplified analysis, and yet it is sure to be expressed. More interesting by far is to hypothesise how the case might have been decided differently if the medication at the heart of the controversy were indicated for treatment of a distinctly male condition. If someone’s ‘sincerely-held’ religious beliefs prevented them from providing insurance coverage to treat erectile dysfunction, would the Court’s majority have been similarly composed?

Such provocative questions matter. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. While this is supposed to save them from the undignified political posturing and short-term thinking that Americans have come to loathe in their Congressmen and Senators, it can also saddle the Court with Justices whose personal opinions have not kept pace with the ever-evolving beliefs of its citizens. Nevertheless, as there are septuagenarians on both sides of the Court’s ideological divide, both conservatives and liberals have an incentive to keep their favourites around as long as possible.

America’s demographics are changing rapidly, and its younger generations do not generally hold one easily identifiable set of beliefs marking them as either ‘progressive’ or ‘traditional’. Going forward, the Supreme Court will find itself increasingly out of touch if it continues to make decisions that primarily reflect the viewpoint of Christian Caucasian males nearing retirement age. Justices would do well to consider that as they begin their summer vacations. The world may look very different by the time the Court begins again in October.

 

By: Hilary Stauffer, Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics, Centre for the Study of Human Rights; The Huffington Post Blog, July 4, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court Opens The Floodgates”: Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Infinitely Flexible, Based On Your Religion — Provided It’s The Right Religion

It didn’t take long for the conservatives on the Supreme Court to show that their decision in the Hobby Lobby case goes farther than Justice Alito professed when he wrote it — just as the liberal dissenters charged. Yesterday the Court granted an “emergency” injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, so that the college wouldn’t have to endure the burden of filling out a form certifying their objections to contraception. The move sparked a blistering dissent from the Court’s three female justices, in which they wrote, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

On its surface, this case appears to be a rather dull dispute about paperwork. But it actually gets to a much more fundamental question about what kinds of demands for special privileges people and organizations can make of the government on the basis of their religious beliefs.

One of the central points Alito made in the Hobby Lobby decision was that the company could be exempted from the law’s requirement that insurance plans cover contraception because there was a less restrictive means for the government to achieve its goal. This less restrictive means, he said, was the procedure the government had set up for religious non-profits: the group signs a form stating its objection and gives a copy to the government and to its third-party insurance administrator, which will then arrange for people to get contraception without the non-profit’s involvement or money. The fact that this procedure exists is what Justice Alito himself cited in the Hobby Lobby decision as proof that there was a less restrictive means for the government to accomplish its goal of guaranteeing preventive care, and for Hobby Lobby to keep clear of any involvement in contraception.

Yet in yesterday’s order, the conservative justices said this procedure — signing a form — is itself an unacceptable “burden” on Wheaton College’s religious freedom.

We don’t have to get into the administrative nightmare this could cause. (The dissent describes it well.) But the point is that there is seemingly no length this Court says the government shouldn’t go to accommodate this particular religious belief. A company or a university doesn’t want to follow the law? Well, we have to respect that — they can just sign a form stating their objection. Oh, they don’t want to sign the form? Well never mind, they don’t have to do that either.

When the Hobby Lobby decision came down on Monday, liberals warned that it was going to open the floodgates to all kinds of claims in which people would say that their “sincerely held” religious beliefs should excuse them from following the law. “My religion tells me I shouldn’t serve black people in my restaurant.” “My religion tells me not to pay sales taxes.” “My religion tells me that I should operate a brothel on my suburban cul de sac.”

But Alito wrote that that wouldn’t be a problem because in those kinds of cases the government was already employing the least restrictive means available to accomplish its legitimate goals, whether it’s stopping discrimination or collecting taxes or preventing prostitution. What the Wheaton College injunction shows, however, is that it matters very much who’s claiming that the law doesn’t apply to them. As much as the Court’s majority might want to believe their rulings are based in abstract principles that would apply to anyone, if you think they’d be working so hard to accommodate the claims for privilege of Muslims or Hindus or members of religious groups that the five conservatives on the Court do not have such an affinity for, you’re fooling yourself.

For some time now, conservatives have been claiming there’s a “war on religion” in America, but what they really want is special privileges, not for religion in general but for certain religions. They want government meetings to start with their prayers, they want their scriptures pinned on the walls of courthouses, they want everyone to celebrate their holidays and when they find the law displeasing — whether it’s a law about health care or discrimination or anything else — they want an exemption carved out just for them.

As important as the Hobby Lobby case is, it may be the seemingly small Wheaton College injunction that has the real effects. That’s because it’s a clear signal to everyone that the Hobby Lobby decision is infinitely flexible. As long as you liked the ruling, you don’t have to worry about whether the Court’s reasoning actually applies to your situation, because the Court doesn’t care. Go ahead and say the law doesn’t apply to you. As long as you say it’s because of your religion — provided it’s the right religion, and a belief like an abhorrence of contraception that the Court’s conservative majority shares — you’ll probably get away with it. And make no mistake: There are going to be a huge number of organizations, businesses, and individuals — probably thousands — that are going to try.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 4, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Religious Beliefs, SCOTUS | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hobby Lobby Decision Is Not About Religious Freedom”: One More Battleground In The Never-Ending Culture War

Why are we still arguing over contraception?

Of all the mind-blowing medical advances of the last 50 years — in-utero surgery, genetic testing, face transplants — why is it that the sale and use of convenient, reliable birth control pills and devices still sparks such controversy?

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision — in which the court’s conservative wing gave religious rights to corporations — is just one more battleground in the never-ending culture war. The high court ruled that the Affordable Care Act violates the religious rights of two family-held corporations whose owners objected to a requirement that they provide employees with health insurance policies that pay for a variety of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby, a crafts chain owned by Southern Baptists, and Conestoga Wood, owned by Mennonites, objected to four contraceptives that they mistakenly consider abortifacients.

If abortion were the animating issue, then liberals, conservatives and moderates would have joined forces long ago to promote more effective family planning. That would be the best way to limit abortions, which are usually the result of unintended pregnancies. Instead, the religious right continues to stand in the way of birth control.

The high court’s ruling, issued last week, hardly seems calamitous since it was limited to those four family planning methods. But the decision, by five male justices, still points to a curious sexism that pervades much of the political discussion around contraception. It’s no wonder that conservatives are accused of waging a “war on women.”

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” In other words, the remarkable cultural transformation that has allowed women to assume leadership roles in corporations, in the military and in politics was assisted by the revolution in reliable contraception, starting with the introduction of “the pill” in 1960.

History reminds us, though, that family planning has long been political. In 1879, the state of Connecticut passed a law prohibiting the use of “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception.” Remarkably, the Supreme Court didn’t strike down that intrusive law until 1965, nearly a hundred years later.

In the decades since, women — and men — have largely taken for granted the right to convenient and reliable birth control. That’s true even among Roman Catholics, although papal doctrine still forbids it. According to the Pew Research Center, only 15 percent of Catholics view contraceptive use as “morally wrong.”

Yet, the backlash among ultraconservatives has become more evident in recent years, especially since the mandate on contraception coverage in Obamacare. In 2012, a young Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke incited the ire of conservatives when she insisted that her university should offer contraceptives in its health insurance policies, despite its church affiliation. Among the more memorable comments that have been directed her way, Rush Limbaugh labeled her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Several months ago, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Fox News commentator still popular on the ultraconservative lecture circuit, was explicitly sexist as he blasted Democrats’ support for contraceptive coverage in the ACA, claiming they want women to think “they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido …”

Indeed, Republican politicians and their allies have showered invective on women who believe that health insurance plans should pay for a full range of reproductive services, including birth control devices and medications. Their rhetoric is full of offensive references to women’s sexuality, which tells you all you need to know about where they’re coming from.

Of course, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, was much more circumspect in his language. Still, the majority’s outdated ideology shines through — partly because they made clear that their reasoning applies only to contraceptives and not to other medical care. There is no religious exemption for, say, a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses that doesn’t want its health insurance policies to pay for blood transfusions.

This ruling had little to do with religious liberty and much to do with women’s reproductive freedom.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at The University of Georgia; The National Memo, July 5, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ayatollah Alito”: Still Not Sure That Elections Have Consequences?

Ayotallah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, say hello to your new comrade, Ayotallah Samuel Alito. Supreme Leader meet Supreme Court Justice.

And, no, regrettably, this is not hyperbole.

With his pronouncement in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court Justice Alito signaled to the world that America has joined the world’s theocracies.

This extraordinary nation, borne of the Enlightenment 238 years ago to the day, will now cloak power, policy and even what qualifies as facts in the vestments of religious belief.

Because, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent (p. 65ff), religious beliefs cannot be questioned either for substance or sincerity. If one, for example, asserts scientifically that IUDs prevent implantation of fertilized embryos, the scientific response would be to explain that their mechanism of action is to prevent fertilization (the sperm cannot ‘swim in a dry lake’ to reach the ovum to fertilize it).

But, if one makes the same claim religiously, then that is the end of it, even if it determines the application of public policy. The Court cannot question the assertion nor whether you believe it, and now, post Hobby Lobby, if you are empowered to act upon it, your religious beliefs determines secular policy for other people.

The Koch Boys, for example, can now claim a religious belief that carbon dioxide is not a heat-trapping gas. So, they can now violate EPA regulations so that their “religious freedom” is not burdened. Post Hobby Lobby, the Ayatollah Alito may declare that, e.g., a carbon tax is a “less restrictive” way to “impose” a science-driven public policy upon the Kochs’ religious beliefs about carbon. Will Congress, under the influence of the Koch Boys, pass such a tax? Of course not. Game… set… match… and planet.

God probably reminded Art Pope this morning that the minimum wage is a sin. Is there a “less restrictive” way to establish adequate wages for his employees, so we do not “burden” the poor sot’s religion? The Ayatollah Alito could choose between the Earned Income Tax Credit and workers’ “freedom” to bargain in the free market to establish wages. (I kid you not… listen to JFK’s rally for Medicare, especially 14:36-16:50.)

As previously described, right-wing politics is not just pro-business, it is itself a big business. The more vitriol, the more money the right-wing groups can raise, and it is protected as political speech. By contrast, when a commercial enterprise raises money from investors, or makes claims about its products, it is subject to fines and/or imprisonment for false and misleading claims.

But, that is just speech. Now, post Hobby Lobby, a simple claim of religious belief, blessed by Alito, can be used to thwart public policy so long as there is any “less restrictive alternative,” real or imagined, that can be referenced. It is a full-employment ruling for the Right Wing Belief Tanks, such as Heritage, to concoct the alternatives.

What does this mean for America? Whatever semblance of democratic government has survived its purchase as a result of the Citizens United ruling is now snuffed out by the counter-majoritarian (see, e.g., Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch) Supreme Court. Does it, should it, matter if the “less restrictive alternative” is even viable? Who decides these matter of public policy? Our new Supreme Leaders.

It means that “closely-held” corporations will have competitive advantages against all the others as they will not have to comply with federal or state law because they are now deemed to be capable of holding religious beliefs about public policy and, if those beliefs conflict with public policy, the beliefs win.

But, it may also have consequences Alito did not consider. For example, if religious beliefs can now stay the application of public policy, will they remain forever free from scrutiny? This is quite different from advocating a public policy position grounded in religious belief. Hobby Lobby allows corporations to thwart enforcement of public policy based upon unchallengeable religious belief.

Moreover, since corporations can now, apparently, hold religious beliefs, as creations of the State, does their very existence not now violate the First Amendment’s Establishment clause? The State, after all, provides corporations with special benefits such as limitations on personal liability, licenses to operate, and so forth. If such entities can themselves have religious beliefs of any kind, has the State not helped establish these religions?

Such considerations will, of course, require the return of some enlightenment to the Supreme Court.

One can almost hear the Founders weeping.

Still not sure that elections have consequences?

 

By: Paul Abrams, The Huffington Post Blog, July 3, 2014

July 4, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Hobby Lobby, Samuel Alito | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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