The Changing View of Religious Rights: Fallout from Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  – US Constitution, 1st Amendment

The first amendment was written in a country full of religious refugees (and descendants of the same) who fled fractured Europe where millions of people had died in wars over religion.  It did away with religious requirements for government jobs, which could be found both in Europe and the colonies. It barred the government from limiting any specific expression of religion, which had been happening everywhere in Europe.

We have expanded that significantly.  Your boss cannot discriminate against you because of your religion.  And we’ve made allowances for religion: for example, places that have dress codes frequently need to make allowances for proscribed ritual dress.

Today, the Supreme Court told us that not only are corporations people, but some of them can have religion, and that status as a religious-corporation-person allows it special exemptions.

Birth Control v. Abortion

While headlines are repeatedly saying Hobby Lobby can refuse to cover “birth control,” the practices in question are limited to methods such as IUDs and Plan B, the “morning-after pill.”  If an egg is fertilized, these items keeps it from implanting in the wall of the uterus.

Says Hobby Lobby CEO David Green:

A new government health care mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance.

We’ve given so much weight to the words “I believe.”  Green believes these are abortion-causing drugs, which is now enough to gain his for-profit company exemptions meant to protect everyone equally.  It doesn’t matter that no one outside of the pro-life community considers these “abortion-causing.” They’re contraceptives.

Says Justice Samuel Alito:

The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.

Let’s make something clear: “religions” don’t dictate what is and is not an abortifacient.  That is the conclusion of certain religious individuals.

Green continues:

Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill.

All sorts of Christians pay for drugs that might cause abortion.  Many use them. Some have actual abortions.  But the language use here gives the impression that Green speaks for all Christians everywhere, and that his position is objective.

The Abortion Debate

So these corporations are getting an exemption because they believe these items cause abortions.  Let’s go with that for a moment.

Abortions are legal.  But the pro-life faction has continued to chip away at Roe v. Wade for decades and have increased their pressure in recent years.  Today they got another chip; yet another option for women has been blocked.

Granted, the ruling does not bar these employees from using birth control.  By that logic, however, the law isn’t forcing them to act against their religion in the first place.  The law doesn’t say they have to use birth control/abortifacients.  It says the insurance which the corporation pays for has to include birth control coverage.

Wider Risk to Birth Control

Some are trying to downplay the scope of this ruling, insisting this has nothing to do with birth control in general.  Hobby Lobby, for example, is only objecting to four of the twenty forms of birth control required by the Affordable Care Act mandate and is willing to cover the other 16.

That doesn’t mean everyone is willing.  The Supreme Court just ruled Hobby Lobby and others are exempt from covering four forms of birth control.  How could they justify turning down petitions to exempt companies from all twenty forms?

Some see all hormonal birth control as abortifacients on the grounds they can at least theoretically cause a fertilized egg to not implant in the lining of the uterus, even if the major intent of the drug is to simply stop ovulation.

And there are some who are against all forms of birth control.  No IUD, no pill, no condoms.  They consider sex to ultimately be an act of procreation, so to block that process makes sex an unnatural act.

That too is an opinion.  The most common argument for such a ban is based on Genesis 38, when God killed a man for “spilling his seed” i.e. deliberately ejaculating in a manner that will not produce pregnancy.

And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother. – Genesis 38:9

Onan’s sin was not spilling his seed.  His sin was deliberately not giving his dead brother’s wife a child, as was the cultural expectation.  Such a child would be considered his brother’s, not his own, thus, he “knew that the offspring would not be his,” and that was his motivation.

Read the whole story.  Or at least the whole verse.

Rights of Religions v. Rights to Non-Religion

Hobby Lobby argued that the government forcing certain companies to pay for a service (insurance) that includes birth control infringes upon their right to live according to their religion as they understand it.

I am the last person to say government should be able to dictate what is or is not a valid religious belief.  One of the purposes of the 1st amendment was to protect minority religious opinions.  One groups’ rights cannot trample another group’s rights.

But that cuts both ways. This ruling forces employees of these companies, which may number in the thousands, to live in the shadow of the owners’ faith, regardless of their own beliefs.

But..me paying for it makes me a part of something I consider immoral.  By that logic, my paying of taxes makes me responsible for the war in Iraq and every other thing for which my taxes are used.

Right to Personal Practice

The first amendment was about not limiting personal practices of faith.  A woman has a right to veil herself (except in certain situations where it becomes a security issue).  A man does not have the right to force a woman to wear a veil.

A religious group is allowed to assemble to practice their faith.  They are not allowed to assemble in the middle of the street where it disrupts the life of everyone else.

No woman is required to have an abortion.  However, you can’t insist no one else have an abortion either.

This ruling, however, says that you can seriously limit someone’s access to birth control in the name of your religion.

 

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