The most troubling aspect of the so-called Hobby Lobby case decided Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court is that the court appears to be weighting some rights above others. And these superior rights appear to belong only to those who control America’s corporations.
It wasn’t surprising that a 5-4 majority voted to support private companies that refuse to provide certain forms of birth control to employees. After all, this same court ruled that corporate “persons” have the right to buy as much “free speech” as they can afford in the Citizens United decision two years ago. Surely, then, it’s only a small step to imbue corporations with the right to hold religious views.
The problem is that these expanding corporate rights appear to outweigh the rights of actual humans.
Written by Justice Samuel Alito, Monday’s ruling applied the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to allow private companies – as opposed to companies whose stock is publicly traded – to deny certain forms of birth control coverage required by the Affordable Care Act to employees. Essentially, he extended rules written exempting religious organizations from regulations they find repugnant to “closely held” for-profit firms who also find specific government rules repugnant.
The difference is that nonprofits are most often groups of like-minded individuals. Corporations are made up of employees, who seldom have any say in their company’s policies or choices and frequently do not share the beliefs of those in positions of authority. So, the morals of the few who make those corporate choices for “closely held” companies now outweigh the choices and morals of the many who have no say.
We do not doubt the sincerity of the beliefs of those who founded Hobby Lobby and who direct the company. But Hobby Lobby is not a religion. The impact of this decision is to allow the company to deny a benefit to its 14,000 employees who might disagree with the company’s moral position. The case was combined with another involving Conestoga Wood, which employs 2,100 people in four states.
Both companies objected to federal rules that required intrauterine devices and the “morning after” pill – which take affect after fertilization – be provided to employees.
Alito insisted the decision didn’t create a broad loophole for any company to get around any aspect of the insurance mandate by pleading it is being forced to go against the faith restrictions of top executives. But we can’t see the difference in refusing to pay for birth control and refusing to pay for blood transfusions or certain drugs eschewed by adherents of various faiths.
The majority did not include any of the high court’s three women. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a forceful dissenting opinion then took the unusual step of delivering it from the bench. She called the Hobby Lobby ruling a “decision of startling breadth” that allows corporations and other business entities to “opt out of any law (saving tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
We agree that churches and religion-based nonprofit groups should be exempt from the contraception mandate. But we do not like any law that sets the rights of a small group of people above the rights of others.