August 2014
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Beyond birth control

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June Hobby Lobby ruling isn’t about birth-control.

Wait. What? How can that be, when the case, and a similar case brought by Conestoga Wood, were specifically about birth-control coverage in the Affordable Care Act?

The case centered on birth-control, it is true, but as an underpinning of religious liberty, and whether a corporation can assert religious liberty as a reason to break the law. The 5-4 SCOTUS ruling in effect held that corporations are capable of religious exercise, when in fact a business is no more capable of that than it is of having a favorite color.

That simple fact — and yes, it really is simple — ought to scare the pants off of every freedom-loving American, regardless of individual positions on birth-control, who pays, and the ACA itself.

While the side issues arising from the ruling are important, I worry that they distract from the true harm, which is a court that will confer upon things the rights of individuals — and at the expense of individuals.

So, yes, we can talk about the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, and their shameless pandering to people of faith and what I, based on a recent puff piece in Time, take to be their martyr complex.

Yes, we can talk about how birth-control works and does not work, and how ignorant the Greens and the all-male SCOTUS majority are of that. The Greens objected to “only four” of the 16 forms of birth-control covered in the ACA, apparently because they do not understand basic science.

Yes, we can point out that a person’s health-insurance benefits are part of his or her compensation package and thus, birth-control coverage isn’t technically “free.” We can note, as even dissenting justices did, that women’s preventative health care is far more costly than men’s. We can argue all the livelong day about how “inexpensive” birth-control is or is not. Further, even if a woman is buying her birth-control (or paying for an abortion!), she is using money earned at her job; in fact, companies subsidize a whole lot of things that may pain the consciences of their owners. We can talk about Viagra coverage vs. birth-control coverage.

We can talk about how Hobby Lobby buys goods from China, where state-forced abortions are a (horrific) fact of life.

We can even talk about how Hobby Lobby is not all bad when it comes to worker treatment; in fact, barring the policing of vaginas, it actually treats employees quite well. The Greens also think failing to adequately pay their workforce is immoral, so in that respect their employees actually benefit from the Greens’ personal religious beliefs.

We can even lament that employees at any job have to, in so many respects, rely on their boss’s good graces for workers’ rights, instead of solid regulations that have actual teeth, and we can lament further that the trend is to weaken such laws and regulations as do exist to protect workers.

But with respect to the SCOTUS ruling itself, all of the above points divide a populace that should be united in outrage.

Our Supreme Court just handed corporate America another victory; it just issued a ruling that will further undermine our rights, whether we use birth-control or not. Corporate America prefers that we keep sniping at each other over the sideshow attractions and pay no attention to what the man behind the robe is doing to our rights.

Already, money has been deemed as “speech.” Already, the court has found that corporations have First Amendment free-speech rights. When there is no limit on money’s influence, We, the People, lose. When there is no way to shine a light on “dark money” so we might at least know who is buying our country and for what price, We, the People, lose.

When a for-profit entity is accorded First Amendment religious-freedom rights (via SCOTUS’ interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993), We, the People, lose. When the high court cannot see the crystal-clear difference between the entity and the individuals who own the entity, we are doomed.

The Hobby Lobby ruling was to be limited to small, closely held corporations. That doesn’t matter. A corporation is a thing, not a person. Things do not have constitutional rights. That is the point, and we should be shouting it from the mountaintops.

The ruling’s supposed limits are not going to stop the owners of other businesses from using it to assert a “religious freedom” defense when they are accused of violating other federal laws, such as non-discrimination rules.

“In a decision of startling breadth,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her ringing dissent, “the court holds that commercial enterprise including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

She continued: “… In the court’s view, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodations may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith — in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent.” (Italics mine.)

The practical implications of the Hobby Lobby ruling are horrifying; Justice Ginsburg’s use of the word “havoc” is spot-on. When these implications begin to be seen beyond the case at hand, I suspect the mountaintop is going to get a lot noisier.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.


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