Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Meet an M.D. member

Name: Paul D. Redleaf, M.D.

Where I live: Lilydale, Minn., across the Mississippi from Saint Paul.

Where and when I was born: New York City, April 24, 1931.

Family: My wife, Rhoda, two sons and two daughters and their spouses, five grandsons, two granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.

Education: Great Neck High School, valedictorian, 1948; Cornell University, zoology and general studies, 1951; Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1955; internships and residencies, University of Minnesota, 1955-57. 1958-61.

Occupation: Internal medicine private practice in Saint Paul, 1961-80, part time 1980-83. Member, Chicago Board Options Exchange (trader in put and call options).

Military service: Captain, U.S. Army, 1957-59, serving at Fort Knox, Ky. How I got where I am today: (1) A great deal of good luck, healthwise and escaping the dangers of financial disaster on the CBOE. (2) Making the best possible choice in marrying Rhoda, a wonderful wife and absolutely perfect mother and grandmother. (3) Good decisions to leave the medical practice and options trading while ahead, and entrusting all my savings to my son Andy’s management.

Where I’m headed: Obviously, at 83, downhill. Hearing is going, no longer skiing but still playing singles tennis with buddies 10 years younger. Hoping to live out the years without dementia and eventually a good death, unburdensome to me and my family.

Person in history I admire: Obviously there are many, but I cast a vote for Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001.

A quotation I like: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” (Anatole France)

These are a few of my favorite things: Travel (having seen most of the U.S. and a good chunk of the world), classical music, good nonfiction books an periodicals

These are not: Noisy restaurants.

My doubts about religion started: While reading the biblical Book of Job in freshman English at Cornell. If there’s a God who can treat Job as he treats him, he doesn’t deserve worship. And the state of the world demonstrates that if there is a God, he is neither all-wise or all-just.

Before I die: I’d like to see some very bad actors on the Supreme Court gone and a Republican Party which could include someone like the late Jacob Javits, a U.S. senator from New York from 1957-81. (I still consider myself a Javits Republican.)

Ways I promote freethought: We’ve promoted freethought in our family. One daughter is a virulent anti-capitalist, and a son, to our chagrin, was a founder of the Federalist Society.

[Editor’s note: Paul modestly doesn’t mention his and Rhoda’s ongoing, generous endowment of the Redleaf Internship Fund, formerly at Carleton College, and now Sarah Lawrence, which allows FFRF and sother select nonprofits to employ summer interns.

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It Pays to Complain

Bible quotes vanish from whiteboard

The Clinton County School District in Plattsburg, Mo., ordered removal of bible quotes from a middle school administrator’s whiteboard.

In an Oct. 8 letter of complaint, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott informed the district, “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”

The school district’s attorney responded Oct. 10 to say that the bible verse had been removed.

Joel Osteen trip trips FFRF trigger

Botetourt County, Fincastle, Va., ceased sponsorship and website promotion of a trip to see megachurch pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen trip after getting a Sept. 26 letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

“We respect the importance of government coordination of community events and trips, but holding religious events specifically for a Christian subset of citizens is inappropriate and unconstitutional,” wrote Elliott.

The county removed the event posting, and County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said in a response letter that the county was not hosting or organizing the trip and would seek legal advice regarding FFRF’s concerns.

Better ‘BELIEVE’ it: Yearbook cleansed

Gallia County (Ohio) Local Schools will no longer endorse religion on the cover of its yearbooks. The PTO of Addaville Elementary School printed and distributed yearbooks with a large cross bearing the word “BELIEVE” on the cover. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school district Sept. 26.

A school district attorney forwarded Markert a letter from the superintendent to parents, explaining that the religious message was inappropriate. The superintendent also wrote to the PTO, saying that in the future, the group “must refrain from displaying any religious message or symbol in publications that are or appear to be sponsored by or associated with the Gallia County Local School District.”

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State/Church Bulletin

Courthouse protest brings arrest

Eliot Kalman, 69, Athens, Ohio, was arrested Oct. 28 and charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief for his protest of the church directory sign on the Athens County Courthouse. Kalman admitted putting stickers advocating state/church separation on the directory, reported the Athens News. The sign lists 40 different churches and religious groups in the county.

County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said it’s his “understanding that the county has no influence or authority over what goes up or how it goes up, and that by going through the [private] group who controls it, anyone can post any group organizational information they want.”

Kalman said if something is on county property, it’s under the county’s authority. He said he’s upset about being handcuffed, searched and “perp walked” after what he considers an appropriate public protest. “They put me in handcuffs for exercising my First Amendment rights as if I were a dangerous person.”

Atheist settles suit for $2 million

Barry Hazle Jr. and the state of California settled Hazle’s six-year-old civil rights suit on Oct. 14 for almost $2 million. Hazle was imprisoned for just over 100 days after contesting a “higher power” drug treatment program while he was on parole, the Redding Record Searchlight reported.

Hazle asked for a secular treatment program, was told none was available and was eventually sent back to prison, where he’d already spent a year on drug possession charges that were overturned by an appeals court.

An appeals judge ruled in August 2013 that compensatory damages are mandatory in cases of unconstitutional imprisonment and said the trial jury had been misinstructed, resulting in the settlement. The state will pay Hazle $1 million and $925,000 will come from Westcare California Inc., the contractor that offered only a religious rehabilitation program.

Election results are mixed bag

Daniel Moran, a Democrat and atheist running for the Texas House of Representatives, lost his race Nov. 4, as did James Woods, an Arizona Democrat and atheist running for the U.S. House. Woods was the only open atheist running for Congress.

Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, defeated Moran by getting 77.3% of the vote. Incumbent Republican Rep. Matt Salmon won 68% of the vote against Woods.

Arizona Democratic state Rep. Juan Mendez, an atheist who gave a secular invocation from the floor of the House (for which he was honored at FFRF’s 2013 convention), won a second term.

Religion News Service reported that voters rejected two Rhode Island politicians who criticized teen atheist activist Jessica Ahlquist. Democrat Peter Palumbo, who called her an “evil little thing,” lost his legislative bid, and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who also criticized Ahlquist, lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Gina Raimondo, who became the state’s first woman governor.

Other religion-related results:

• A state constitutional amendment banning use of “foreign law” in Alabama courts passed 72%-28%. It was first put forth by people worried that Islamic sharia could someday influence court cases.

• “Fetal personhood” amendments lost in Colorado (65%-35%) and North Dakota (64%-36%).

• Tennessee voters by 52.6% approved a state constitutional amendment saying this: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.” It gives legislators more power to restrict abortions. The amendment received much more support in rural areas.

• Illinois voters approved by 67%-33% a nonbinding referendum requiring health insurers to include prescription birth control as part of drug coverage.

Humanist denied chaplaincy sues

Atheist Navy chaplain candidate Jason Heap filed suit Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in Virginia to challenge the rejection in June of his chaplain application. Defendants are Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and several other Defense Department and Navy personnel.

Heap has a doctorate in religion and has studied at Oxford and Texas Christian University and is a former youth minister. The suit asks for his instatement as a Navy chaplain and the designation of the Humanist Society as the official endorsing agent for humanist chaplains.

Heap and his supporters say that humanist beliefs “are constitutionally equal to religious faith and that chaplains are key contacts for troops on a variety of personnel and quality-of-life matters, ranging from recreational activities to suicide prevention programs,” reported Stars and Stripes.

Wis. judge rules church must pay

St. Raphael Cathedral property was properly taxed in 2013 by the city of Madison, Wis., because the Catholic parish missed a deadline to seek a religious exemption, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled Nov. 4. The cathedral suffered severe fire damage in 2005. The property was unused for years until 2013 when a 14-station Way of the Cross display was installed.

If not for missing the deadline, Niess said the property could have been given a $101,125 tax exemption because the Way of the Cross served a religious purpose.

“You may all go on to the Court of Appeals to see if I’m right,” Niess told the parties. City Assessor Mark Hanson said the city denied St. Raphael’s Congregation’s 2014 tax exemption request. “We didn’t feel the current use qualified for an exemption.” The congregation will have to pay the tax and then file in January for a refund as it did for 2013, Hanson said.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote a formal letter to the assessor and addressed the Madison Common Council in opposition to the exemption.

Calif. city council prayers appealed

Carole Beaton, a Eureka, Calif., activist and FFRF member, is appealing to the state Court of Appeal a December 2013 ruling that said nonsectarian prayers at Eureka City Council meetings are constitutional.

The city and Beaton settled part of the suit in October in an agreement prohibiting the city from using its resources, city seal and the title of mayor to promote or support prayer breakfasts.

The city agreed to pay Beaton $16,500 for attorney’s fees.

“Prayer is religion in action, so prayer and government don’t mix either,” plaintiff’s attorney Peter Martin said. “We would like the Court of Appeal to draw a bright line.” The point is to keep religion out of government, not out of people’s lives, Beaton said in an email to the Eureka Times-Standard. “The separation of church and state is a precious American principle which protects us all, both religious and nonbelievers.”

Florida judge removed from bench

The Florida Supreme Court on Oct. 30 removed Judith Hawkins from her position as a Leon County judge for selling religious books from her office as part of her for-profit Christian ministry, The Associated Press reported.

The court said Hawkins was deceitful and dishonest at her disciplinary hearing before the Judicial Qualifications Commission. She was also accused of using her county email account, judicial assistant and her office spaces and equipment to create, edit and promote Gaza Road Ministry products “to the detriment of the prompt and efficient administration of justice.”

Her annual judge’s salary was $142,000.

Devil blamed for commandments crash

Michael Tate Reed Jr., 29, allegedly told federal authorities that Satan told him to drive his car into a Ten Commandments monument Oct. 23 at the Oklahoma Capitol. Reed was charged with destruction of state property/improvements, indecent exposure, making threatening statements, reckless driving and operating a vehicle with a revoked license. The monument was toppled about 9 p.m.

An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the monument, donated by state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, was dismissed in September. but the ACLU is appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Wall of separation in danger of crumbling

FFRF awarded Jared $400 for his essay.
By Jared Plotkin

In 2014, the principle of separation of church and state has been challenged in a variety of disturbing ways. Using code words like “religious liberty,” Christian conservatives have tried through the legal system to impose their beliefs on everyone. Hundreds of public schools across the country were shown to be teaching creationism, in defiance of federal rulings. Numerous bills were proposed allowing businesses to turn away gay customers based on the owner’s religious beliefs, with one so far, in Mississippi, signed into law.

Most recently, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court declared that not only are corporations people, they can be religious people, and that their “freedom of religion” trumps the rights of the actual people who work for the company. Each of these issues is an egregious constitutional violation. I wish, however, to discuss another development that is in many ways the clearest example of the way “religious liberty” has been misused to force one Christianity on the entire nation. In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court ruled that not only could a city council meeting begin with a prayer, but the prayer could be explicitly Christian. The case is notable for several reasons.

The New York town had a history of selecting only Christians to lead the opening prayer. Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent: “In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions.” The 5-4 decision was also notable for the breakdown among justices. All the justices appointed by Republican presidents (and all Catholic) favored sectarian prayer, while all appointed by Democrats opposed it. The court’s split mirrors that of the town’s prayer-givers — the Christian majority imposing its views on everyone. The decision runs afoul of judicial precedent, which is increasingly becoming typical for this court. E.J. Dionne notes that “the court’s conservative majority is operating as a political faction” and is willing to embrace an activist role in order to achieve ideological goals.

Precedent like the “Lemon” test, which prohibits government entanglement with religion and ensures that policies involving religion serve a secular purpose, has been swept aside. Even more startling is how the “originalist” conservative justices have ignored the founders’ views on state/church separation.

The words of the majority opinion confirm this stunning departure from our roots. Justice Anthony Kennedy opined that the overwhelming majority of prayers were explicitly Christian was because town residents were “nearly all” Christian. Kennedy’s solution for those who object: Ignore the prayer or leave the room.

The agenda of conservatives who claim they want to expand “religious liberty” is revealed. They do not want religious liberty; they want its antithesis. They want to use the government’s authority to spread their beliefs to the exclusion of all others at taxpayer expense.

It’s no wonder that Justice Clarence Thomas filed a separate opinion with the majority stating that there’s nothing in the Constitution barring state and local governments from establishing an official religion.

Prayer at city council meetings might be a small issue, but the logic behind the majority’s view is not. Assuming that the court’s ideological makeup isn’t altered in the near future, this decision could open the floodgates to letting the religious majority force its views on the minority.

Those of us who believe that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion should be outraged.

Jared Plotkin, 28, Sacramento, is pursuing a master’s in political science at California State University-Los Angeles, where he’s the founding president of the Atheist, Agnostic and Non-Religious Student Alliance. He previously earned a B.A. in political science from UCLA-Irvine.

A haven from oppression

By Ashley Reynolds
FFRF awarded Ashley $400 for her essay.

United States Constitution, Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” The reverence given to both aspects of religious liberty by our nation’s founders comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with our colonial history, as the New World served as a haven for the many who sought to escape the oppressive Church of England.

Today it would seem that history does repeat itself, as liberty-minded Americans once again find themselves as underdogs in a battle for freedom from religious oppression. A legislative battle is under way to radically redefine “religious liberty.” By definition, liberty means to have the greatest degree of freedom possible without infringing on another’s rights. Yet the purported religious liberties of some are clashing with the basic rights of others, and these clashes are being legally sanctioned, defying the spirit of the Establishment Clause.

Many states have almost no legal consequences for parents who decline medical treatment for their children in favor of faith-based healing. Similarly, despite the 109-year-old ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, all but three states grant parents vaccine exemptions on the basis of religion.

Gays and women are subject to ever-increasing discrimination despite constitutional protections. Nine states have what some disrespectfully call “no promo homo” laws denouncing homosexuality. Contradicting Lawrence v. Texas, some even criminalize consensual sex between adults.

And, after Arizona’s failed attempt to let business owners refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons, at least five more states are looking at similar legislation.

Perhaps one recent case stands above the rest as a red flag: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In the fall of 2012, Hobby Lobby’s owners filed a lawsuit alleging that the Affordable Care Act forced the Green family to act in violation of their beliefs. The Greens falsely claimed that emergency contraceptives like Plan B and Ella, as well as copper and hormonal intrauterine devices, are abortifacients.

On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court sided 5-4 with Hobby Lobby. In the words of dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the majority ventured into a “minefield” by radically expanding the interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to include corporate personhood.

Within 24 hours, the court issued orders on six similar cases that extended the Hobby Lobby exception to all drugs classified as contraceptives. Within 48 hours, the court issued a procedural ruling in Wheaton College v. Burwell that the employer couldn’t even be compelled to submit a form to the government stating religious objections to contraceptives, as the mere act of doing so might trigger a third party to provide coverage.

Religious liberty no longer just means a woman has the freedom to choose whether or not to use contraception; it now means a company can choose whether or not to even give her the option.

Burwell is another chip off the decaying façades of Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, which have been weakened by a string of state laws and court rulings making contraception and abortion less accessible. The Religious Right is successfully launching attacks on women from a new strategic position. If they can’t deny reproductive rights entirely, they will circumvent them by cutting off insurance funding. America is an idea as much as a nation, the idea being that people are endowed with a basic human right to as much freedom as possible without infringing on others. Our founding documents reflect this desire for liberty, and we are governed by a Constitution that, in no uncertain terms, especially recognizes the importance of religious freedom. America can return to her roots as a haven from oppression, but we must take this clear stand: One’s freedom ends where another’s begins.

Ashley Reynolds, 28, Perkins, Okla., is pursuing an M.S. in teaching, learning and leadership with an option in secondary social studies education at Oklahoma State University, where she earned a B.A. in political science in 2010.

Hobby Lobby ruling is vat of worms

By Benjamin van Loon
FFRF awarded Benjamin $500 for his essay.

The First Amendment recognizes freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. The amendment opens with the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses that state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Thomas Jefferson summed up the clauses’ implication in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, that they erect “a wall of separation between Church & State.” On paper, the separation seems like it should work, but two centuries later, the 1791 amendment is still contentious.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby originated in 2010 in reaction to the Affordable Care Act and its redefinition of employer-based health plans. Under the ACA, the Health Resources and Services Administration determined that FDA-approved contraceptives should be included in these health plans.

Big-box craft chain Hobby Lobby — owned by founder, billionaire and evangelical Christian David Green and his family — has 28,000 employees and objected to coverage for emergency and other contraception which the company has, in the tradition of corporate myopia, erroneously declared to be abortifacients.

This is less like a can and more like a vat of worms. How can a corporation have religious beliefs? Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott addressed the issue in their 2003 documentary “The Corporation,” which investigates corporate personhood through a DSM-IV lens. The movie concludes that corporations are largely psychopathic (socially inept, lacking empathy, deceitful, etc.).

This is not revelatory but it is provocative. We’re led to ask how corporations achieved their personhood. They can merge, acquiesce and sue, but can they go to church? Hobby Lobby cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, suggesting that the government has substantially burdened the company’s exercise of religion. The “win” in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is a liberating benefit to corporations, which can leverage “religious” rationale for commercial gain and a detriment to the real persons affected by corporate decisions.

We must also consider how the case fallaciously conflates religious conviction with ethical opinion. Hobby Lobby’s argument reflects the Christian position about conception and contraceptives in general, where the logic is hermeneutically weak and the reasoning duplicitous.

If Burwell v. Hobby Lobby were truly about religious freedom, the $2.28 billion company would swallow the $100 a month tax for failing to meet HRSA requirements and we’d hear no more of it. But instead, federal notions of religious liberty get dragged into the muck as Jefferson’s wall gets ever more porous.

Finally, in typical psychopathological fashion, Hobby Lobby fails to recognize that what it does in pursuit of its religious liberty doubles as a religious (ethical and ideological) imposition, beginning with its 28,000 employees and extending to the rest of the conscious public.

If Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, it should recognize that religion ends where it begins: in the head, the only place one can be truly free.

Benjamin van Loon, 29, Chicago, is pursuing a master’s in communication and media at Northeastern Illinois University after graduating magna cum laude from North Park University with degrees in both philosophy and English.

Corporate personhood’s oppression by religion

By Zachary Tuck
FFRF awarded Zachary $750 for his essay.

The First Amendment states in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The amendment expressed the Enlightenment-era philosophy of reason espoused by many of the Constitution’s framers. The Establishment Clause also appealed to people who had faced religious persecution in Europe. The ongoing clash between science and religion and the growth of corporate personhood complicate the issue of religious freedom in a way not anticipated 200 years ago. Corporate religious expression has devastating consequences for women, LGBTQ persons and other minorities. The concomitant erosion of the separation of church and state lets corporations legislate from the board room, circumventing legal precedent to create biased hiring practices and control their employees’ and customers’ access to health, safety and freedom from persecution under the guise of religious expression. The exercise of free speech has been the battleground for corporate personhood. Corporations have a vested interest in removing any limits to political donations, which gives them greater clout than any human person, paving the way for decisions like Citizens United and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The social movements of the 20th century, most notably the civil rights and women’s rights movements, created a fairer and broader definition of what it is to be human. One such source of power is the idea of bodily autonomy, which was advanced by the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby carries with it the implication that a corporation can use a religion to make a medical definition, which thus becomes not only a public health concern, but a threat to women’s rights. In “The Hobby Lobby Decision: A Summary & Explanation,” the blogger known as Carmen breaks down one of the most insidious aspects of the majority decision by exploring a quote from 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.”

Note how carefully Alito words it: “according to their religious beliefs.” He had to do so because the four contraceptives at issue (Mirena, Paragard, Plan B and Ella) are not, in fact, abortifacients according to the FDA. This is really crucial. The court majority wrongly allowed Hobby Lobby to define what causes an abortion. The court is not solely culpable in this, given that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress, mandates additional safeguards against laws placing an alleged undue burden on the expression of religion, effectively paving the way for the Hobby Lobby case and others like it.

The 21st century has also witnessed the growth of the LGBTQ rights movement, which faces strong religious opposition. Michelle Chen at The Nation has reported on Hobby Lobby’s unwillingness to let a transgender employee of 16 years use her store’s bathroom, despite having legally transitioned. George Fox University, a Christian university in Oregon, applied for and was granted a religious exemption to Title IX requirements to provide appropriate accommodations for one of its transgender students. As the student himself points out in a report by Daniel Borgen:

“I deserve to be treated like the other men on campus. Apparently, the university disagrees, as they have made clear by forcing me to live off-campus. The university is operating under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ and the religious exemption they received now gives the government’s stamp of approval to what they are doing. My own tax dollars will fund the university’s discrimination against me. I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is fair.”

The Supreme Court and the prevailing political climate are strongly biased toward a very loose interpretation of the free exercise of religion. Each such law passed nationally or locally and supported judicially threatens the Establishment Clause — in word and spirit — and the freedom and safety of individuals and groups. Those of us who fear the imposition of religion, or impositions in the guise of religion, must fight the symptoms of this problem and face up to the problem itself: That no freedom is safe when corporate interests erode representative government.

Zachary Tuck, 30, Austin, Texas, is a student in the writing and literature program at California College of the Arts in the San Francisco area, working toward a bachelor’s degree.

Disquieting decision: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

FFRF awarded Justin $1,000 for his essay.

By Justin Clark

The Supreme Court made a decision on June 30 that will be remembered for its uneven handling of justice and as a serious challenge to the secular institutions that have sustained the U.S. for over 230 years: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. For-profit corporations now have a “religious privilege” to not conform to the contraceptive coverage mandate as outlined in the Affordable Care Act. For the first time, personal religious rights have been conferred on for-profit corporations. Owners of “closely held” companies can impose their religious beliefs on their employees. As New York Times reporter Adam Liptak noted, the decision has “opened the door to many challenges from corporations over laws that they claim violate their religious liberty.” That understates the case. Over 90% of all U.S. businesses are “closely held,” which means that while the majority opinion sees this as a narrow ruling, it actually applies the challenges to the ACA to corporate law as a whole. In effect, a private company can now challenge almost any law on “religious liberty” grounds. This terrible decision is not at all what the framers envisioned with the Establishment Clause. The decision stems from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which, in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision, has been appropriated to serve the ends of religious business owners who run entities such as Hobby Lobby. Equally troubling is that at no time in the majority opinion does Justice Samuel Alito even remotely define what “deeply held religious beliefs” are or how they allow corporations to discriminate against workers. He only intimates that “it is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.” While the explicit remark of the majority is certainly logical, based on the Establishment Clause, it is the implicit meaning that is deeply unsettling. The court has indirectly decided that the religious beliefs of the majority shareholders of a company trump employees’ rights. Picking and choosing who’s burdened or helped by RFRA sets an awful precedent, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent elucidates this beautifully:

No doubt the Greens . . . and all who share their beliefs may decline to acquire for themselves the contraceptives in question. But that choice may not be imposed on employees who hold other beliefs. Working for Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, in other words, should not deprive employees of the preventive care available to workers at the shop next door, at least in the absence of directions from the Legislature or Administration to do so.

That outlines perfectly the problematic aspect of this decision. The Establishment Clause mandates strict neutrality in religious matters, but because of the ruling’s broadening of RFRA, the government is now effectively picking winners and losers based on “deeply held religious beliefs.” This is corporate encroachment on individual liberties and protections, done in the name of religious liberty. It opens the floodgates for cases all over the country.

Secularism requires a position of neutrality, because the complications of defining a deeply held religious belief are astounding. RFRA should be amended or repealed altogether. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties should not have even been allowed to pursue a claim against forms of contraception in the first place. Calling contraception such as intrauterine devices the moral equivalent of abortion is not a position that the Supreme Court should decide, but it has done so at the expense of individual rights. This decision is dangerous, and future cases will make it only more so.

Justin Clark, 24, Peru, Ind., is pursing a master’s in public history at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis. He previously earned a bachelor’s in history/political science with a minor in philosophy from Indiana University-Kokomo.

SCOTUS: All freedom not created equal

By Kat Heiden
FFRF awarded Kat $2,000 for her essay.

The New York Times headline sums it up nicely: “Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptive Mandate for Some Corporations.” Within this straightforward statement lies an important key word: “Some” suggests that the court’s decision applies to certain companies with certain characteristics.

In this case that defining characteristic is the business owners’ religious beliefs. The court’s decision ensures that these individuals’ religious preferences are maintained. In doing so, it violates the freedom of countless female employees by preventing them from accessing the contraception that, per the Affordable Care Act, they have a legal right to obtain.
The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision suggests that religious freedom is somehow more valuable than workers’ freedom to make decisions about their own health and futures. That alone is a fatal flaw in the decision, but there are several others. In a country where we pride ourselves on “liberty and justice for all,” the decision applies that liberty selectively, with religious business owners as its “chosen” people.

If religious employers refuse to include contraception as part of employee health plans, many women can no longer make a choice about whether or not to obtain it. They are stripped of this freedom because without insurance, contraception can be prohibitively expensive. For example, according to Planned Parenthood, an intrauterine device (one of the most effective forms of birth control) can cost $500 to $900 if paid for entirely out of pocket. For a woman making minimum wage, as many workers at retail stores such as Hobby Lobby earn, this could mean nearly a month’s wages.

A woman’s choice to obtain birth control does not infringe on anyone else’s freedom. No one will be forced to use birth control. Before, during and after the woman’s choice, the freedom to practice religion will remain intact. Disturbingly, the decision suggests that the imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others is a freedom to be protected. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby not only applies the concept of freedom unequally, it relies heavily on the idea of corporate personhood to underscore its religious favoritism. As Justice Ruth Ginsburg noted in her dissent, “the court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”

The majority opinion justifies corporate personhood by stating:

Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons.” But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.

The above passage shows selective freedom at work. The majority defines “people” as shareholders, officers and employees and justifies corporate personhood as a way to protect those people’s rights. Yet the employee’s right to contraception is denied. By treating employers differently from employees, the court adheres to only a select portion of its own corporate personhood definition. The Supreme Court is a public body whose purpose is to better define, interpret and apply law in service of all Americans. It cannot select which Americans it serves. In principle, the court makes our country freer by ensuring that all laws are just. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby does not strike down an unjust law or create a new one. It simply chooses the application of one existing law over another. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is favored over the Affordable Care Act. In a more egregious misappropriation of the court’s power to apply the law, RFRA is also essentially chosen over the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Justice Ginsburg speaks to this point in her dissent:

The Court does not pretend that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause demands religion-based accommodations so extreme, for our decisions leave no doubt on that score. Instead, the Court holds that Congress, in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, dictated the extraordinary religion-based exemptions [to the Free Exercise Clause] today’s decision endorses.

Decisions like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby favor some Americans’ freedoms over others, which is extremely problematic. Freedom is the core belief that unites our United States, and it is too precious to be dispensed unevenly, especially by the highest court in the land.

Kat Heiden, 29, Sherman Oaks, Calif., is pursuing an M.A. in communications and leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. She previously earned a B.A. in screenwriting from Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

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