June 30 marked a turning point in the struggle to uphold the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to FFRF’s statement released on the day the Supreme Court issued its chilling abuse of “religious liberty.”
In a 5-4 split, the court held that for-profit corporations can exercise their so-called religious conscience in order to restrict employees’ access to contraceptives. The ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores held that the contraceptive coverage granted by the Affordable Care Act creates a “significant burden” on a corporation’s free exercise of religion.
Once again an all-Catholic, all-male, all-ultra-conservative majority of five has voted to eviscerate fundamental rights. The law’s requirement that employers who provide health care coverage must offer preventive care, including prescriptive contraceptives, does not violate the rights of Hobby Lobby, even though it is run by a fundamentalist zealot. But the court’s ruling giving corporate veto power over women workers’ private contraceptive choices, certainly violates the rights of women.
It was all over by page 2 of the Supreme Court’s decision favoring the fundamentalist Christian owner of Hobby Lobby Stores and the Mennonite owner of Conestoga Wood Specialties. Justice Samuel Alito, joined by his Catholic brethren, wrote these jaw-dropping words:
“[W]e must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions.”
The fanatical businessmen who brought the litigation believe some forms of the birth control pill and IUD are abortifacients, despite reality. The amicus brief of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and 21 other medical professional groups thoroughly debunking this misrepresentation.
The ruling was not based on the Constitution, but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a statute. This statute was adopted by Congress and must be repealed by Congress. Even Alito admits: “As we have seen, RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection for religious liberty. By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this Court has held is constitutionally required.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s amicus brief noted state-church attorney Marci A. Hamilton (joined by groups advocating for the rights of victims of religious abuse), was the only brief before the Supreme Court that argued that RFRA is unconstitutional. FFRF’s important brief points out that RFRA “accords religious believers extreme religious liberty rights that yield a political and fiscal windfall in violation of the clearest commands of the Establishment Clause.”
During oral arguments, counsel for the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, noted that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would be “the first time under the Free Exercise Clause or under RFRA in which [the Supreme Court] or any court has held that an employer . . . may be granted an exemption that extinguishes statutorily guaranteed benefits of fundamental importance.”
The ruling ignored the rights and needs of thousands of female Hobby Lobby employees, and millions of women nationwide who work at for-profit corporations. Women workers must not be at the mercy of employers who happen to be religious fanatics who want to intrude into private reproductive decisions that are none of their business. Rather than protecting women workers’ right to health care and women’s freedom of conscience, the Court has turned its back on them in the name of “religious liberty.”
This damaging decision opens the floodgates for corporations, interested only in increasing their bottom line, to claim religious objections to a variety of generally applicable laws. The Court arbitrarily claims its decision would not necessarily allow a corporation to claim a similar religious objection to blood transfusions, vaccines, or mental health services, or create a religious right to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or race. But very obviously, the ruling creates mischievous precedent that will haunt the next generation of litigation.
The high court has ruled that contraception — the right to plan families and avert unwanted pregnancies — is not necessary for women’s health. One in four U.S. women died due to pregnancy or childbirth in the 19th century. It is a lie for the Supreme Court to aver that birth control is not preventive medicine. The court is practicing reckless medicine without a license.
We cannot let a male, Catholic, ultra-conservative majority on the court turn the clock back a century. Join FFRF in working now for the most practical remedy for this pernicious decision — the repeal by Congress of RFRA. None of our civil and human rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe from the reach of religious bigots until RFRA is overturned.
This statement was written by FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, Staff Attorneys Andrew Seidel and Sam Grover. Turn to page 12 to read FFRF’s ad against the Hobby Lobby ruling that ran in The New York Times on July 3.