Affordable Care Act, RFRA, War on Women — March 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm

The Hobby Lobby case: It’s about discrimination, not religious freedom


Don’t be deceived

Hobby Lobby wants the conversation about their lawsuit challenging Obamacare to be about religious freedom, but if we communicate right, Americans will see it for what it is – discrimination and harm for the company’s female employees.

“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” says David Green, CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby, explaining why his company should be allowed to exclude contraceptive coverage from the insurance it provides to its 13,000 employees. (Amy has already covered the Hobby Lobby case HERE and HERE and you should definitely read her work if you haven’t already.)

A similar “religious freedom” claim pops up repeatedly in attempts to undo the progress the country has made on LGBT rights and further erode reproductive rights. It’s the same language used by the advocates of Arizona’s attempt to explicitly allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and by “religious freedom restoration acts” being pushed across the country. Major news outlets have made lots of room for people to make this case for “religious freedom” (e.g. HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

What you need to know is that Americans don’t buy it. This is evident from the results of attempts to push “religious freedom” exemptions and loopholes. Arizona’s bill was vetoed after huge public outcry, and even conservative North Dakota rejected a broad “religious liberty restoration act” in 2012.

American skepticism of these religious freedom claims is clear from public opinion surveys as well. A poll John Russonello and I conducted for the ACLU and Catholics for Choice when I was at Belden Russonello Strategists I found widespread objection (pdf) to even religious institutions refusing to cover birth control for their employees.

  • In our 2012 poll, over three quarters of Americans object to a private company imposing its religious objections to birth control on the public. If “a pharmacy does not fill a prescription for birth control because it goes against the owners’ religious beliefs,” 77% say that should not be allowed.
  • Another 69% of Americans said it should not be allowed for a religiously‐affiliated university to deny its employees and students insurance coverage for birth control on the ground that birth control is a sin.
  • The same study found broad objections to discrimination against gays and lesbians on religious grounds, and even to hospitals refusing to provide abortion. Opposition to these exemptions crossed political and religious lines.

In focus groups, when we talked to voters about these religious exemptions, most did not see this as part of America’s tradition of religious freedom, which they value greatly. Instead, the voters described such exemptions as “using religion to discriminate” or “using religion to impose your views on others.” They say that religious freedom is important, but that it does not give anyone the right to harm others or to break the law.

I hope that the Supreme Court will do the right thing and rule that the religious views of Hobby Lobby’s owners do not entitle the company to discriminate and refuse to cover necessary care for its female employees. The evidence suggests most Americans do, too.

[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]