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Levine writes: "Is it an undue burden on religious freedom to ensure that an individual or group's beliefs do not impinge on the freedom of someone holding different beliefs? What sounds like one of those conundrums designed more to inspire intellectual badinage than concrete law has become a serious and pressing question thanks to a furious week of activity at the Supreme Court."

Religious freedom supporters hold a rally to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Religious freedom supporters hold a rally to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)


Court Expands Reach of Hobby Lobby on Eve of Holiday Weekend

By Gregg Levine, Al Jazeera America

08 July 14

 

s it an undue burden on religious freedom to ensure that an individual or group’s beliefs do not impinge on the freedom of someone holding different beliefs?

What sounds like one of those conundrums designed more to inspire intellectual badinage than concrete law has become a serious and pressing question thanks to a furious week of activity at the Supreme Court.

Likely familiar to many by now is the high court’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, granting a private corporation the right to refuse certain forms of contraceptive coverage to its employees on the notion that providing that coverage placed an undue burden on the owner’s religious practices.

Some might have also have spotted how, just a day later, the court used their supposedly narrowly defined decision in Hobby Lobby to guide rulings on six other cases winding through the appellate courts. Those decisions — which all favored corporations and institutions seeking religious exemptions from Affordable Care Act requirements over employees seeking coverage — instantly broadened the reach of Hobby Lobby, and raised the specter of religious challenges to an expanded list of government mandates.

But many could be excused for missing the Supreme Court’s final flurry, coming as it did late Thursday, as much of official Washington, the media, and wide swath of America embarked on a long July 4th holiday weekend.

In an unsigned decision, the court granted an injunction to Wheaton College, a private, Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, allowing the institution to continue to avoid compliance with the ACA, pending a full review of its case. At stake, whether Wheaton should be required to fill out a form certifying that it was denying its employees contraceptive coverage as part of a mandated health plan (filing the form would allow the federal government to step in with supplemental coverage), and if the school refused, whether it would be subjected to fines for not providing what the health care law calls “minimal essential coverage.”

The injunction, as noted, had no names attached, but three justices were out loud and proud in their dissent. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan (yes, that would be the entire female population of the court), wrote:

Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today. After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, retreats from that position.

In other words, the self-ascribed narrow scope of the Alito decision in Hobby Lobby has already been shown to be not so narrow. In Wheaton, and in some of the six other rulings on pending cases made earlier in the week, entities other than just “closely held” corporations are in play. So are organizations that object to all forms of preventative services, not just the types of contraception Hobby Lobby erroneously believed were abortifacients. And, in at least one case, Eden Foods, there is an employer who claims it poses an undue burden on his religious liberty when the government requires him to buy anything for his employees, be it “Jack Daniel’s or birth control.”

Troubling, too, to the dissent, was that the Alito decision gave Hobby Lobby bosses a pass because the federal government had a workaround where entities would certify their refusal to provide contraception coverage, allowing the government to step in. But if the premise of Wheaton’s objection (and the contention in a similar case brought by Catholic charity Little Sisters of the Poor) holds, that workaround is invalid. And if the government crafts another compromise in an attempt to deliver services to people who have the misfortune of working for a company or organization that seeks to impose its religious beliefs across its workforce, and religious groups again find it a burden, that compromise will also face injunction.

If that sounds like too slippery a slope, well, it’s not up to you. As Alito wrote in his Hobby Lobby decision, “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial” — meaning it is not for the government and not for the courts, but the decision of the holder of any religious beliefs as to whether a law is burdensome. If a college or a charity thinks that simply filing paperwork contradicts their religious principles because it would allow employees to seek contraception elsewhere, so be it. If a company’s owner thinks that requiring anything — from health coverage to equal pay to safe working conditions — violates sincere religious beliefs, well then, it does. It’s not for the government, the courts, or, it seems, the directly affected employees to say otherwise.

Personal liberty, it seems, is not the same thing as religious liberty, and in the eye of the Roberts Court, it is not as important, either. If protections guaranteed under a law feel burdensome to your employer — on account of religious beliefs, of course — your employer does not have to provide those protections, thanks to the expanded reach of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act now affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Or so it appears to many court watchers. There are those who will cling to the “one time only” language in the Hobby Lobby decision and possibility for endless compromise on behalf of the government — and this will all no doubt be litigated for years to come — but the facts on the ground are the facts on the ground. And right now, the facts are that hundreds of Wheaton employees and potentially thousands upon thousands of people nationwide do not have — and have no good promise of access to — medical services deemed legal and essential by Congress and the courts.

The interpretation of the law, after all, isn’t just about academic institutions, and it isn’t just academic — for most of working America, it’s the law.

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+78 # ericlipps 2014-07-08 17:25
One should remember that Bush v. Gore was decided on a "one time only" basis too.

This Court shows a troubling tendency to trim its decisions according to what will best serve the interests of the Republican Party and its ideologically zealous base.
 
 
+66 # cymricmorty 2014-07-08 17:51
Of course there was nothing narrow about the Hobby Lobotomized SCOTUS 5 ruling. This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
 
 
+67 # PABLO DIABLO 2014-07-08 17:55
And, REMEMBER, the lawyer who shepherded BUSH v GORE through the Supreme Court was none other than John Roberts. YES, the same John Roberts. It is ALL so stinkingly corrupt. Impeacg Thomas for criminal offenses ( he and his wife take money/favors from defendants appearing before the Court). Then, Obama could appoint a "moderate".
 
 
-26 # restore2america 2014-07-08 18:43
Lets impeach them and Obama too. None of them are honest. All of them abuse our rights and safeguard corporations that steal from us. Throw the scum out NOW.
 
 
+19 # babalu 2014-07-09 02:14
Quoting restore2america:
Lets impeach them and Obama too. None of them are honest. All of them abuse our rights and safeguard corporations that steal from us. Throw the scum out NOW.

OFF TOPIC! This is a sure recipe for more T-Party crap! Obama is a quantum leap better than the traitorous Republicans who agreed to block EVERY maneuver by the executive branch from keeping this country from going FURTHER into the crapper after BUSH destruction.
Oh, that's right! Dem's are supposed to fix everything IMMEDIATELY after Republ screw up.
 
 
+1 # babalu 2014-07-09 02:14
Quoting restore2america:
Lets impeach them and Obama too. None of them are honest. All of them abuse our rights and safeguard corporations that steal from us. Throw the scum out NOW.

OFF TOPIC! This is a sure recipe for more T-Party crap! Obama is a quantum leap better than the traitorous Republicans who agreed to block EVERY maneuver by the executive branch from keeping this country from going FURTHER into the crapper after BUSH destruction.
Oh, that's right! Dem's are supposed to fix everything IMMEDIATELY after Republ screw up.
 
 
+69 # m... 2014-07-08 18:09


Maybe this is what it feels like in a country where the Mullahs step in and begin to take over in the name of 'God'...

 
 
+28 # lorenbliss 2014-07-08 23:39
There's no “maybe” about it: that's exactly what's happening, though the perpetrators are Christian clergymen, not mullahs.

Meanwhile, a few of us – Chris Hedges, Nat Hentoff, Jeff Sharlet, Susan Jacoby, Kevin Phillips and myself – have been warning for years about the encroachment of theocracy.

Having encountered Christianity's hatefulness in rural Washington and the South (where the colloquial name for the Ku Klux Klan is “the Saturday night men's Bible-study class”), I damn the theocrats as “Christofascist s” and “JesuNazis.”

Too extreme? Hardly; I know from experience that is precisely what they are.

But we are the Cassandras of our era. Our words are belittled as sensationalism, rejected as paranoia.

The secular public is too smugly self-absorbed to awaken to the threat.

Shackled by political correctness, the Left dares not acknowledge the growing might of Christian fanaticism. That would require acknowledging both the stranglehold Christianity has on the U.S. masses and the parallel menaces of radical Islam and theocratic Judaism.

The moderate churches, mosques and temples are gagged by ecumenicism. That's why they do not speak out against the threat.

And the two major parties were long ago taken over by the fanatics. Read Sharlet's “The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” (Harper: 2008).

Now, like some reincarnation of the Inquisition, the Supreme Court is pouncing.
 
 
+3 # cymricmorty 2014-07-09 08:46
I'm not bound by political correctness anymore. I give as good as I get. At least I have facts and science on my side.
 
 
+2 # m... 2014-07-09 18:36
Speaking of Science…, a 'Latin' sounding term comes to mind regarding all of this… 'SCOTUS MULLAHS' …. Sounds like medical terminology which describes an awful condition or terrible state of affairs...
 
 
+3 # lorenbliss 2014-07-10 01:28
Inspired by #m, may I suggest the following:

SCOTUS MALORUM (court of evil); SCOTUS MENDACEM (court of lies); SCOTUS IGNORANTUM (court of ignorance); SCOTUS HORRIBILIS (court of horror)...and then my favorite:

SCOTUS ASINORUM (court of asses).

This last has true Roman lineage. It is from "pons asinorum, literally 'bridge of asses': a humorous name for the fifth proposition of the first book of Euclid, from the difficulty which beginners or dull-witted persons find in 'getting over' or mastering it." ("A Dictionary of Latin Words and Phrases," Oxford University Press: 1998)

Then of course there is Scalia, a disease so awful even medical writers are afraid to describe it, lest the description itself vector the bacteria.
 
 
0 # sofi12 2014-07-11 15:27
This is not Christianity, my friend. These people on the Right have hijacked the term "Christian." It now stands for homophobia, racism, sexism, nativism -- and whatever else they choose to make it stand for. The problem, as I see it, is that no one in authority --clergy, political, mental health professionals -- stands up to this nonsense.It's fanaticism, pure and simple.And it just keeps gaining strength.
 
 
+54 # fdawei 2014-07-08 18:12
The deaf, dumb and mute Thomas must be impeached. How many words has this cretin uttered since siting on the highest bench in the land?
Complete discredit to his race, the people of America and equal rights.
 
 
+18 # liteguy 2014-07-08 18:32
How can the court be challenged ??????
 
 
+6 # Sweet Pea 2014-07-09 06:30
Perhaps some of the court has confused supreme court with supreme beings.
 
 
0 # ligonlaw 2014-07-13 09:46
The Supreme Court is co-equal with the Legislative and Executive Branch. As the highest court, decisions become the "law of the land." If the court make-up is changed through death or retirement of justices, different judges can overrule prior decisions. Congress can pass new laws to overturn the effects of SCOTUS policy decisions. Here, the SCOTUS overruled Congress, or that part of the ACA which requires companies to provide forms of birth control. As this conservative majority is at least as far right as the House of Representatives , it is not likely any ruling of the Congress will change the law. The President has no power to make or change laws. The Executive is charged only with enforcement and administration.
 
 
+34 # dick 2014-07-08 18:34
Methinks SCROTUM has made a mess that may backfire on them. Those assholes think "religion" means U.S.Catholic; but Muslims & HUNDREDS of others could have a field day with this. My own
religion REQUIRES me to pay females more than males, blacks double whites, and my God COMMANDS that I employ 4 year olds. God Wills It. Politics aside, this is really stupid. Oligarchs are desperate to have religious right on Wall St's side.
 
 
+37 # restore2america 2014-07-08 18:41
Hey, I am a white male, and I think your religion is OK. And my God is ok with your religion too. After all, women and blacks have been F*&$#d by the government and corporations for how long now? Oh, yes, forever. TIME FOR BIG CHANGES IN THIS PERVERTED SCREWED UP COUNTRY. Religion is just one more tool of those who abuse power.
 
 
+55 # jwb110 2014-07-08 18:39
The Supreme Court never had to hear this case. Rhenquist clearly turned down many suits brought to the Supreme Court.
This court WANTED to hear this case and pass down a judgment. The number of sitting Justices who are Catholic and should have recused themselves would have this judgement go is a very different direction.
This is social engineering from the Supreme Court Judicial Bench. The only thing we're missing is Cromwell.
 
 
-10 # restore2america 2014-07-08 18:39
Hillarious Clinton is interested in power and nothing more. She is a fascist and deserves NO support from any of us. Snowden did ALL of us a great service by forcing the debate that Hillarious and the DC power crowd desperately did not want to have: the debate about limiting government power and holding government accountable for breaking the foundational rules of our society. We MUST get rid of Hillarious and her ilk, whether they are Dems or Reps. They all are predators on our rights and our country. Time for them to GO!
 
 
+9 # bmiluski 2014-07-09 09:16
WOW so OFF topic. If you want to rant about Mrs. Clinton do so in the comments section of an article pertaining to her and is appropriate. At which point it will have more relevance.
 
 
+47 # restore2america 2014-07-08 18:45
Occurs to me that religion is the "new" way to make racism, sexism and homophobia socially "acceptable". Jesus of Nazareth would smash the temples that these oligarchs have built off the sweat of our collective backs.
 
 
+1 # Interested Observer 2014-07-09 09:49
Replacing, or at least augmenting, "state's rights".
 
 
+32 # Rick Levy 2014-07-08 19:01
Wheaton's refusal to at least complete the form is faith-related all right: bad faith.
 
 
+20 # economagic 2014-07-08 19:21
Some interesting digressions here from the topic of the article. The big story here would seem to be that the Five Pygmies just lied last Monday, never intending their ruling to be narrowly construed.

I think Dick is on to something: Many of us have "sincerely held religious beliefs." There was some off-the-wall question to which for years I would respond, "It's against my religion." Since it WAS off-the-wall, people would sometimes ask, "What religion is that?" To which I would immediately reply, "MINE!" The Constitution guarantees it, and these "Men" (as it says in the Declaration of Independence) apparently agree since they have not said anything to the contrary, as they have repeatedly done while trashing established precedents.

If nothing else it would be interesting to watch the contortions as the Pygmies try to find justifications in their own judicial-activi st case law to rule against a few dozen carefully chosen cases in carefully chosen jurisdictions, chosen of course with an eye toward getting them past the appeals courts, as the Extreme Right has been doing now for nearly 50 years.
 
 
+32 # angryspittle 2014-07-08 19:29
Nefarious motherfuckers. They are going after the ACA just like they have whittled away at Roe V. Wade.
 
 
+20 # tm7devils 2014-07-08 19:37
The Inquisition - The Sequel (MA); produced by the Right Wing; directed by John Roberts; screen play adopted from the KJB...
 
 
+28 # ligonlaw 2014-07-08 20:08
The five Catholic justices are weaving religious doctrine into the fabric of American law, namely, the doctrine of Catholicism. The Catholic majority reflects an antipathy for the establishment clause/ On a case by case basis, the majority is engineering a collision course of faiths similar to what has plagued Ireland for many decades. The Establishment Clause was the genius of Thomas Jefferson and other Founders who were trying to avoid the centuries of bloodshed they saw in Europe when our forebears in England murdered each other over questions of state-mandated religion. The Separation of Church and State has served this country well, but it annoys those who want to convert Americans to their particular faith.
 
 
+29 # Kimberly999 2014-07-08 21:01
Every Justice whose religion keeps them from supporting our constitution AS WRITTEN, should recuse themselves from votes where they have a conflict. Your religious freedom does NOT exist at the expense of mine.
 
 
+19 # moonrigger 2014-07-08 21:20
Thank goddess Sotomayor isn't playing the catechism card.
 
 
+11 # Regina 2014-07-09 01:20
Sotomayor experienced enough discrimination in her life to make her know better. This set of Court decisions is sexist as well as sectarian.
 
 
+22 # ChickenBoo 2014-07-08 22:21
Women need to wake up. This is a prime oppertunity for the women of this country to band together and take charge. Women are really the ones with the power here. Remember the 3 forms of communication.. .Tele-phone, Tele-vision, and TELL a Woman! Women talk. Women are the ones who buy things. Most of the work force in these lousey jobs are woman. The world would stand on end if WOMEN decided to band together for the betterment of women. Women don't start the wars. Women normally want to get along. If all the women decided not to buy from or work at Hobby Lobby, guess what! They'd be out of business overnight! Same thing with these other corporations who think they can force America into shiriah law starting with the women. Women need to stand up and say NO.
 
 
-12 # Rick Levy 2014-07-09 00:34
Reverse gender bias if I ever heard it.
 
 
+3 # bmiluski 2014-07-09 09:18
Yeah Rick.....gender bias is it? Well how does it feel?
 
 
-4 # Rick Levy 2014-07-10 01:38
You're obviously a bigot.
 
 
+4 # cymricmorty 2014-07-09 08:41
Any woman who is a RWNJ is beneath contempt, IMO. ( Of course, it goes without saying that she's free to choose to be beneath contempt.)
 
 
0 # bmiluski 2014-07-09 09:18
OK but what does RWNJ and IMO mean?
 
 
+3 # cymricmorty 2014-07-09 09:22
right wing nut job
in my opinion
 
 
-4 # Rick Levy 2014-07-10 01:41
So women must all follow the same political party line just because of their gender or they are beneath contempt. That line of thinking says more about you than it does about RWNJs
 
 
0 # cymricmorty 2014-07-10 12:05
Troll on.
 
 
+10 # babalu 2014-07-09 02:18
OK, people, time for us to demonstrate outside the Catholic churches that are home to these "religious" men! They don't deserve any buffer zone from people with "sincerely held religious beliefs" from imposing them on others, just like they do!
 
 
+8 # DavidThree 2014-07-09 06:19
The obvious answer is for Democrats to hold the White House for the rest of the current Court members' natural lives. That way we would have a court that is of, by and for the people, not corporations.
 
 
+8 # Eliz77 2014-07-09 09:18
The decision made on the idea of religious freedom denies the religion and the freedom of religion of anyone who works for Hobby Lobby and their ilk.
 
 
+4 # bmiluski 2014-07-09 09:19
I wonder if this could lead to a single payer National Health Service.
 
 
+3 # randrjwr 2014-07-09 09:54
Go back and reread the paragraph containing the sentence " As Alito wrote in his Hobby Lobby decision, “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial” " The author infers that this means that the decision as to whether a law (ANY law) is burdensome is entirely up to the "believer" and must be respected. This appears to me to be a valid inference. Now, I believe that the Federal Government as well as most if not all state governments have laws against murder on the books (though many recent events and court decisions do make me wonder). Thus, if a Muslim organization decides that such laws are "burdensome", are they free to go ahead and kill infidels, as some interpretations of the Koran direct? Similarly, if a right-to-life believer holds the religious belief that doctors who provide abortions are murderers who must, themselves, be murdered to punish them and prevent further murders, is that OK too? I admit this is an extreme example, but is it really excluded from the scope of Alito's statement? If so, someone please tell me how and why it is excluded so I can sleep better, being an infidel myself. Also, if this privilege is reserved to organizations, could not an individual simply incorporate first and then act?
 
 
+6 # latrun 2014-07-09 09:56
Nothing less than American Sharia
 
 
+2 # in deo veritas 2014-07-09 16:56
I will exercise my freedom of expression by not doing business with Hobby Lobby.It is ludicrous for the neofascists on the SCOTUS to show any concern for ANY religious principles as they have NONE!
 
 
0 # LAellie33 2014-07-26 04:39
IMPEACH THE DOMESTIC TERRORIST SUPREME COURT 5!!
N O W!!!
 

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