SCOTUS To Rule On Hobby Lobby Soon

Sometime in the next few days-~-before June 30-~-the Supreme Court is set to rule on Sebelius v Hobby Lobby.  The ruling will have significant implications, given that its subject matter concerns whether or not corporations should be entitled to religious freedoms and religious exceptions.

Those who have followed the ongoing controversies over the birth control mandate included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will remember that there was also a recent case, Little Sisters of the Poor v Sebelius, in which a religiously-affiliated organization already eligible for exception under the mandate sued with regards to the application for exemption.  This case has even more significant implications than the former: currently, private corporations such as Hobby Lobby, which are not religiously affiliated, are not entitled to any exceptions regarding their coverage of contraception.  The owners, who identify as Evangelical Christians, are contesting this, claiming that they have a problem with 4 kinds of contraception included in the mandate because they believe that said forms (2 kinds of morning-after pill and 2 kinds of IUDs) terminate life. Never mind that this is not supported by any current science, this is the grounds for their contesting the mandate.

In my previous coverage of this case, I discussed a couple of reasons why I believe that, constitutionally, the Supreme Court should rule against Hobby Lobby.  I’ll give a brief recap here: first, corporate personhood is meant to legally separate corporations from their owners with regards to rights and responsibilities, and ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would mean abandoning this concept of corporate personhood, which would have negative legal implications.  Second, even if one wanted to argue that this was a rights violation, I argue that the government can claim a compelling state interest to ensure access to birth control and that the mandate, with its exception for religious institutions, likely constitutes the least restrictive means to do so.  Lastly, I discussed this issue in terms of right to privacy: if a company can’t control what an individual spends their money on, they shouldn’t be able to control what their health insurance covers, as either form of interference would constitute a privacy violation.

Writing on the forthcoming decision, the National Constitution Center reporters have noted that during arguments, it seemed likely that Chief Justice John Roberts may seek a compromise, creating a divide between closely held companies (like Hobby Lobby) and publicly held companies.  It also seems likely that Kennedy’s vote could have a strong (if not decisive) impact on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

There are two major issues at play in this case.  The first is whether or not corporations should have free exercise rights, and legal scholars following the case seem to believe that these rights may be upheld for closely held corporations.  The Third Circuit Court has already rejected this argument in the sister case to Hobby Lobby’s, Sebelius vs Costenoga Wood.

The second issue is whether or not corporations have the right to force religious beliefs on their employees, something that many have expressed concern about if Hobby Lobby were to win their case.  In a recent teleconference, Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, he pointed out that if Hobby Lobby were to win this decision, it would set a precedent that would allow for companies run by other religiously-affiliated persons to deny coverage of other kinds of healthcare, such as psychiatry, or surgery, which are opposed by Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, respectively.  Forbes  reported that Catholics for Choice associate Meghan Smith also went on record pointing out that this could allow companies to, for example, fire individuals for being pregnant but unmarried, which is contentious in certain religions.  These practices would obviously come into conflict with other laws and civil rights protections, creating grounds for other legal suits, but the reality is that a Hobby Lobby/Costenoga Wood victory this week could have harmful implications for the protection of employees-~-and that’s a slippery slope we definitely don’t want to slide down.

At a time when there are groups complaining that they are being persecuted against because they are not being legally allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, it seems likely that we would have further civil rights problems on our hands if the Courts were to decide that corporations have the right to religious freedom-~-at the very least, it seems likely we would see another wave of cases as individuals had to fight for their rights as employees.  This is particularly problematic given that most states do not have employment non-discrimination statutes in place for sexuality or gender identity, which means that we would almost certainly see new cases of discrimination on religious grounds, with no means for recourse.  The reality is that employees-~-especially female employees, who are more likely to engage in contentious behaviors or at least to have them held against them (since cis-men do not need to use contraception, get abortions, or carry babies out of wedlock)-~-would be put at risk for discrimination unless the ruling is very narrowly tailored.

We will have to wait and see.  Fingers crossed for a positive outcome for advocates of contraception-~-the birth control mandate has the potential to offer life-changing medical options to individuals, but only if it remains intact.

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~ by Randi Saunders on June 25, 2014.

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