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Hobby Lobby: Not A Limited Decision

Official portait of Justice Ginsburg

Ginsburg’s dissent warns of the “startling breadth” of today’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burvell V. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. allowing “closely held” religious corporations to seek exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the narrow court majority claim it will have “limited” effect outside this one part of the Obamacare law.

But Justice Ginsburg, in her dissenting opinion, called it a decision of “startling breadth,” and goes onto say:

The Court’s determination that the RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects. Although the court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private. Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood — combined with its other errors in construing RFRA — invites for-profit entities to seek religious-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.

Katie McDonough, writing in Salon, warns “If you think Monday’s decision won’t affect you, you haven’t been paying attention.”

[A]s Ginsburg alluded to in her dissent, the decision opens the door to other sweeping forms of discrimination. While Hobby Lobby based its claim in its apparent objection to four forms of emergency contraception (contraception that the company covered without issue prior to the new healthcare law), other companies challenging the requirement object to all forms of contraception. Those beliefs are just as sincerely held, and just as dangerous to women’s health. The legal precedent now tips in their favor.

The opinion also raises the question of whose religious beliefs matter. Conservatives are hailing this as a victory for freedom of religion, but what about the religious employees at Hobby Lobby who don’t share the views of the Green family? The Greens’ profoundly unscientific and extreme views about contraception are not even universally accepted among Christians. Where’s their religious liberty in this? And for the women whose religious liberty is freedom from religion? Where are they in this opinion? ‘The Court puts claims of corporations over those of its employees and allows a corporation’s owners to override the Federal rights of its employees, many of whom have a different set of religious beliefs,’ Ginsburg wrote in her dissent.

Religious anti-LGBTQ pundits are already celebrating the decision, according to tweets collected by Right Wing Watch.

There may be reason for them to be optimistic. As SCOTUSblog pointed out, the majority’s opinion pointedly leaves open ‘the question of whether the Government has a similarly compelling interest in preventing discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.’

In fact, the Bilerico Project reports that the current draft language of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act includes a religious exemption to allow continued discrimination and religious leaders are pressuring Obama to include an exemption in his upcoming LGBTQ nondiscrimination executive order.

I’m becoming less a fan of this Handmaid’s Tale world every day. Can I petition the courts to live in a different novel?

Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and