Thursday, November 27, 2014

‘Narrow’ Hobby Lobby ruling has broader effects

7/2/2014

The U.S. Supreme Court crafted a predictably divisive decision this week when it ruled 5-4 that for-profit companies — specifically Hobby Lobby — can cite religious objections to opt out of providing contraception coverage mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The decision cheered conservatives who have voiced increased persecution of the Christian faith in recent years, but riled liberals and women’s advocacy groups who saw the ruling as the latest in a string of attacks on reproductive rights.

So, is Hobby Lobby the hero or villain in this story?

The U.S. Supreme Court crafted a predictably divisive decision this week when it ruled 5-4 that for-profit companies — specifically Hobby Lobby — can cite religious objections to opt out of providing contraception coverage mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The decision cheered conservatives who have voiced increased persecution of the Christian faith in recent years, but riled liberals and women’s advocacy groups who saw the ruling as the latest in a string of attacks on reproductive rights.

So, is Hobby Lobby the hero or villain in this story?

Or is it just a pawn?

The court’s nuanced and complex decision Monday was billed as a “narrow” ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom as it applies to refusing to pay for a few highly specific forms of birth control — namely the Plan B “morning after pill” and certain intrauterine devices or “IUDs,” both of which company officials have likened to abortion.

And there’s the rub.

Monday’s ruling is so exact in its wording that it applies only to this one abortion-related issue. It doesn’t cover religious objections of other faiths for similar reasons. For example, the court decision wasn’t intended to support a company run by Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t want to pay for employees’ blood transfusions, which would violate their religious principles, or a business led by Jews or Muslims who wouldn’t want to cover medications or treatments derived from or using pig byproducts.

It’s freedom for Hobby Lobby, but certainly not religious freedom for all.

So why this narrow ruling on this narrow issue?

Setting aside the contentious debates over abortion and even Obamacare — two topics on which many Americans will never agree — let’s look at what was established by Monday’s Supreme Court decision. The ruling wasn’t just about contraceptives; it also further solidified the idea that a company itself can have a religious belief or faith — and that set of religious values is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

In other words, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has the same rights as a person.

Now, this might be semantics to some, but the Constitution was written to protect “We the People.” Last we checked, Hobby Lobby isn’t a living, breathing American citizen. It’s a company — built by Christians and perhaps even governed by the tenets of their faith, but it still isn’t a person.

As the Fourth of July nears, we all should be suspicious of declarations of “freedom” for corporations that already have far more power and influence over elections and government than the rest of us. The Hobby Lobby ruling follows a hotly contested U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that established free speech rights for companies (boosting the flow of money into politics) and helped popularize the idea of corporate personhood. Such moves have been heralded by some as wins against the Obama administration, but have the effect of weakening the individual liberty of real, live Americans.

Hobby Lobby is a fine company. It pays its employees well above minimum wage, is closed one day each week to allow workers the opportunity to worship as appropriate and gives generously to numerous charities and Christian institutions. But let’s be specific. Let’s narrow it down. Hobby Lobby itself isn’t sitting in a pew at church on Sunday morning.

Its employees and owners?

Sure. They’re people.

And people — not companies — deserve religious freedom.

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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