WHEN YOU GET CAUGHT BETWEEN GOD AND NEW YORK CITY - 3
“Although HHS has made this system available to religious nonprofits that have religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, HHS has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections. We therefore conclude that this system constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty. And under RFRA, that conclusion means that enforcement of the HHS contraceptive mandate against the objecting parties in these cases is unlawful.”
Anton Scalia writing for the majority opinion.
The day after the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby vs. Sibelius the conservative blogosphere and online comments were selling the line that this blow to judicial integrity and religious freedom was simply a matter of “who pays.” I.E. the decision did not deprive Hobby Lobby’s female employees of their ability to get the four contraceptives the plaintiffs objected to on religious grounds, but merely that the women would have to pay for them themselves. As with many breathless “breaking news” media stories (Benghazi, IRS, EPA, etc.) if you troll the conservative internet sites you will find that the vast majority (ball park estimate – 80%) of the commentary uses the same wording. I’ve listened to Rush enough to know that the right wing network is quick to speak with one voice and coalesce around a unified narrative. Even today, a month after the June 30 decision this “who pays” is the reigning take-away for the right wingers.
Of course, this narrative fantasy just isn’t so. For the first time in America’s history a private, for-profit corporation has been granted religious feelings. Remember when the grant of Federal funds directly to not-for-profit religious organizations was a hot topic back in the 1990’s? The result was the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) passed by Congress in 1998. For the first time it allowed religious organizations direct access to Federal taxpayer funds. At the time, I thought it was a horrible precedent firmly believing that no religious organization – charitable or otherwise - should receive government funds. But this action was right in tune with the conservative effort of transferring government functions to the private sector – privatization, if you will.
Upon reading the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby, it’s clear that the “rationale” in the RFRA served as the launch pad for the Hobby Lobby decision. But the RFRA was never intended to cover private corporations no matter what the owners’ or shareholders’ religious beliefs – whether closely, or loosely or divinely held – might be. The whole idea of the RFRA was to expand the charitable services – feed the homeless, provide health services to the indigent, assist battered women, etc. - of non-profit religious organizations through the added funds that would be available to them from the Federal Government. In hindsight, it was the top, apparently, of a slippery slope that even I could not have imagined back then.
I do think that, like the Supreme Court's Plessy vs. Fergusen ruling that upheld state sanctioned segregation in 1896, the Hobby Lobby decision will be overturned eventually. Not, however, under the current composition of the Court. There is a move afoot in Congress to amend the RFRA but in this uber-religious-freedom-Christians-are-being-persecuted climate it will go nowhere.
I am chagrined that I keep foisting all of our problems on the failed thirty year Conservative Experiment,* but no matter how hard I try I can’t come up with a better reason. For a couple of generations the right wing has railed against “activist judges” when rulings seemed to follow a liberal tack and they’ve been very active over the past twenty years in getting conservatives elected and appointed to the country’s judicial benches. And it shows. The ultimate political action taken by the Supreme Court was inserting itself into the Florida vote count in the 2000 presidential election, as if Floridians were too stupid to count votes. Then there was Citizen's United. And the conservatives get all bent outta shape over “activist liberal judges”?
So Hobby Lobby will be able to impose its corporate, closely held religious beliefs on its female employees. I mean doesn’t this sound absurd on its face? So governments cannot impose religious dogma on us but corporations can? What kind of bullshit is this? Here, read again from the Scalia quote above:
“Although HHS has made this system available to religious nonprofits that have religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, HHS has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections.”
And I ask you, how is it that HHS could have ever dreamed that they would need to provide exemptions for the closely held religious beliefs of a private corporation? It's just outrageous.
On the other hand we are so very, very far along in the wholesale corporatization of American society that the decision should not come as big surprise. It didn't for me although I held out hope for a sensible decision as contained in Justice's Ginsberg's dissent. (It's well worth reading, by the way.)
But here we are. Corporations are people just like you and me and, apparently, espouse religious beliefs just like you and me as well. Well, I, for one, am looking forward to chatting up GM and Comcast next Sunday after mass.
PS: Just today there was an article about how a group of Satanists are using the Hobby Lobby opinion to push their own political agenda that includes objections against women being forced to read anti-abortion literature in abortion clinics.
Slippery slope? Or Olympic ski jump?
* This is a lie. I’m a full throated, unrepentant believer that the Conservative Experiment has been an unmitigated disaster for America. Unless you are rich, of course.