Consider how Citizens United has amplified the power of corporate interests in elections. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would do the same to religion.
Hobby Lobby wants to have its cake and eat it, too. A for-profit corporation, Hobby Lobby also wants to have the rights of a religious organization when it comes to providing birth control coverage to its employees.
But Hobby Lobby can’t have it both ways. A corporation pays taxes and must abide by specific laws. Churches and other religious institutions do not have to abide by those same rules. That’s why the Obama administration gave religious organizations an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. While companies must provide birth control at no cost to its employees, churches and houses of worship are exempt, and non-profit organizations with religious affiliations can use third-party insurance providers to offer that coverage to employees, so the religious organization is not paying for birth control coverage that goes against its beliefs.
Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is about Hobby Lobby asking the U.S. Supreme Court for the same exemption as a religious organization. This for-profit company’s Christian owners believe that some forms of birth control cause abortions. This, despite volumes of medical evidence proving that’s not even remotely true. Interestingly, Hobby Lobby had no problem offering coverage for these birth control methods — emergency contraception commonly known as the morning after-pill and IUDs — until the Obamacare birth control mandate was put in place.
As if dictating women’s birth control choices wasn’t intrusive enough, the plaintiffs also want to control what doctors discuss with women — essentially barring them from even talking about these forms of birth control. This would, in theory, prevent women from the option of paying for these birth control methods out of their own pocket. Although extremely troubling in the context of patients’ rights, this request is so ludicrous that I can’t believe any court anywhere would find in favor of it. There’s simply no legitimate reason to allow employers to control what’s discussed in a doctor’s office, nor is there any way to enforce it.
To prevail in this case, Hobby Lobby must win the argument that its religious liberties are being infringed on by having to provide birth control coverage. That means proving that religion is central to its organization.
Hobby Lobby sells craft supplies and home décor. I know people are passionate about their arts-and-crafts hobbies, but I don’t think that qualifies as a religion. Sure, Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays in observance of the Sabbath. But does it sell products made of a wool and linen blend? The Bible forbids that, but any craft store I’ve been in sells products made of mixed fabrics.
Does Hobby Lobby sell products made in China? I’ve never been to Hobby Lobby, but I’ll wager it does, just like every other craft store. In that case, the company is supporting the economy of a country where forced abortions are still a reality. Doesn’t that violate Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs? (Hat-tip to Eclectablog reader judyms9, who made that point in a comment on my recent post about Right to Life of Michigan.)
There’s a great deal of speculation about which way SCOTUS will rule on this case, and for a deeper dive on many of the related issues I highly recommend the articles at Mother Jones, msnbc.com, Slate and Salon.
But my point is this: First, I do not believe that a corporation is a religion, period, no matter what religion its owners practice. Other Christians have spoken out against Hobby Lobby’s assertion. One in particular found it offensive to have his religion compared to selling glue and crepe paper. “I’m a religious person, and I think my tradition is a little different from an arts and craft store,” said Mormon legal scholar Frederick Gedicks from Brigham Young University. I completely agree.
Second — and even more important — if SCOTUS rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, it would pave the way for unprecedented freedom to discriminate in the name of religion. CEOs who think women should be subservient to men could refuse to hire women. Corporations that object to religions other than their own could refuse to hire people of other faiths. Companies could refuse to cover any number of healthcare services, such as blood transfusions, vaccinations, treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, or substance abuse counseling for people who drink.
The bigger issue here is one of religious liberty, and the rights of individuals to practice their own faith or no faith — not the faith of their employer. But as an advocate for patients’ rights, I’m gravely concerned about the ramifications of a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby. It would set the stage for any corporation, including hospital systems, to make decisions about healthcare based on religious beliefs. The same discrimination that could happen on the job could happen in an emergency room, and that’s a frightening future to contemplate.
Really, there would be no end to what a corporation could object to because we’re a country of many religions and diverse beliefs. Discrimination in employment and service would run rampant and individuals would be at a grave disadvantage in fighting it and defending their own beliefs. How could a middle-class David who is turned away from a job for being gay fight against a Goliath corporation with deep pockets and an army of lawyers? It wouldn’t be impossible if organizations like the ACLU get behind those Davids (as they surely would, given the fact that they already
filed an amicus brief urging the court not to grant the religious exemption to Hobby Lobby). But it wouldn’t be easy and it would be an uphill battle that could take years — and tie up resources that could be much better used elsewhere.
That’s why I compare the Hobby Lobby case to Citizens United. It would give any corporation a license to discriminate and dodge around laws. It would give them all the power of a religious organization with none of the responsibility. And it would infringe on the rights of individuals who simply want the benefits they work and pay for, who want nothing more than the rights they are entitled to under our country’s employment and non-discrimination laws.
America is not a theocracy — we are not ruled by religious beliefs, and we never should be. There’s a reason we have the separation of church and state in this country, and that principle needs to be protected. If SCOTUS does not uphold that fundamental aspect of our democracy, it won’t take long for every one of our individual liberties and rights to become as flimsy as crepe paper.
[Photo credit: LaDawna Howard | Flickr.]