Thursday, July 3, 2014

On the Hobby Lobby Decision

I’m going to talk about the Hobby Lobby case in this post.

Let me give you some personal background.  The Hobby Lobby decision was based, at least in part, on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed in the 1990′s.  Essentially, RFRA was designed to protect people’s religious freedom, even when certain religious practices went against a law.  (That’s probably a bit simplistic of a description, but that’s my understanding of its gist.)  Justice Antonin Scalia had written a majority opinion saying that a group of Native Americans could not use peyote as part of a religious ceremony, so RFRA was passed to give religious freedom a bit more weight on the scales.  And RFRA was supported across the political spectrum.  Democrats and Republicans voted for it.  The American Civil Liberties supported it (as I recall), but so did the right-wing Concerned Woman for America.

The Pate family was horrified by Scalia’s decision, and it supported RFRA.  The reason was that we observed Old Testament festivals, and that meant that I had to be absent from school on certain weeks.  The problem was that my school had an attendance policy, and missing at or above a certain number of days of school could lead to suspension, maybe even expulsion, and the taking away of credits.  We were definitely for RFRA!  (And, on a side note, we challenged the school’s attendance policy, along with other parents whose children were impacted by it, albeit for non-religious reasons.)

Because I was part of a religious minority, religious freedom has been an important issue to me, even if I no longer hold the same religious beliefs and practices with which I was raised.  Growing up, I heard about people who were fired because they could not work on the seventh-day Sabbath.  That may not be directly relevant to RFRA, but it concerns religious freedom.  Forcing people to choose between their religious beliefs and their job was not good.  That was my view when I was growing up.  That is my view now.

I have issues with the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, however, or at least where that decision can lead.  My problem is that it may allow one person’s religious freedom to restrict the freedom of someone else.  The founders of Hobby Lobby are free not to use certain contraceptives; that is their religious freedom.  But do they have a right to restrict someone else’s freedom—-by refusing to pay for something that may be unaffordable to their employees?

“But Hobby Lobby covered other contraceptives.”  What if a couple of people who don’t believe in contraception start a company and choose not to cover ANY contraception in their employees’ health insurance policies?  “But Samuel Alito’s decision is very narrow.”  But Supreme Court decisions can serve as precedents.  “Women can get contraception apart from their health insurance packages.”  But can they afford it?  “Workers at Hobby Lobby are paid well.”  I am glad.  I do not hate Hobby Lobby.  But employees are still vulnerable to the decisions of their employers.  That power dynamic should be considered.  “They can work elsewhere.”  In this economy?

My concern is that, even if the women employees’ situation at Hobby Lobby was not dire (and that is subject to debate), what protection will women in worse situations now not have, as a result of this decision?

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