The Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby, and birth control.


Image from The Washington Post

This week the Supremes agreed to review two appeals court decisions about the mandates of the Affordable Care Act. At issue is whether a profit-making business has a religious right to defy a federal mandate: that is, to include contraceptive coverage in their employees’ health insurance plans. In short, do corporations have religious freedom?

Hobby Lobby Stores is a major craft store chain that operates on “biblical principles.” This hasn’t always worked well in practice: this past September a customer at a store in New Jersey asked a clerk if they carried bar mitzvah cards. The clerk said no and added, “We don’t cater to you people.” Blogger Ken Berwitz then called the same store to ask why it seemed to be ignoring Hanukkah. He was told, “Because Mr. (David) Green is the owner of the company, he’s a Christian, and those are his values.” Hobby Lobby later apologized for the employees’ comments, stating that it carried Jewish holiday items in the past and would do so in test areas beginning in November.

Last fall Hobby Lobby sought an injunction over new regulations requiring employer-provided health insurance to cover emergency contraceptives. The company stated, “The Green family’s religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices.” The Supremes denied the injunction, prompting Hobby Lobby to sue the Federal government. And this summer the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Hobby Lobby a temporary injunction, accepting the argument that forcing the company to comply with the mandate would violate the owners’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). That 1993 law says that a “person” can opt out of a law, under some circumstances, if obeying it would “substantially burden” the exercise of his or her religion.

A “person.” Not a corporation.

Hobby Lobby isn’t the only appeals court decision being considered. Also this summer the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, whose owners are Mennonite Christians. Contrary to the 10th Circuit, the court rejected the company’s claim that being required to cover contraception violated its rights under the First Amendment and the RFRA.  They held:

“General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments, or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.”

A corporation. Not a “person.” But even if the corporation is a “person” under the RFRA, that law refers to a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion. There is no such burden here. No employer is being forced to use contraceptives; that decision will be made by the employee.

Your employee-paid health care is part of your pay. Your employer has no more business telling you what to do with it than he does telling you how to spend your salary. If Hobby Lobby has its way, however, a conservative Christian employer could refuse to pay the minimum wage because a worker might spend some of her paycheck on birth control or other “immoral” activities. A Muslim or Orthodox business owner could withhold an employee’s pay because he or she might purchase pork products. A Mormon employer could decline payroll because his employees might spend money on caffeinated beverages.

Longtime source and awesome blogger Mr. Blunt and Cranky made this prediction more than a year ago:

Consider a more extreme (but highly probable) scenario: the First Church of Christ, Scientist. These people do not believe in medicine: they are faith-healers. So if your employers were Christian Scientists, they could deny you any and all health care coverage. You’d get nothing… This is a legal church, as legal as the Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists, and entitled to the same tax and legal benefits as any other religious entity.

If employers are allowed to use their personal beliefs to avoid paying for health care that they find objectionable, this writer submits that many tightwads will quickly “convert” to some sort of faith-healing sect in order to save money by denying their employees the care that that need. Soon, there would be few, if any, people covered by employer-based health care plans.

Think it couldn’t happen? Think again. In a society that rewards greed and glorifies ignorance, it is not only possible; it is predictable.

“Health coverage? No, we’re snake-handlers. Got a headache? Go take up a serpent out of the pit.”

Background information from the LA Times and Wikipedia.

2 Comments on “The Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby, and birth control.”

  1. […] I wrote back in November 2013: Your employee-paid health care is part of your pay. Your employer has no more business telling you […]

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