OPINION

'Hobby Lobby' just opened a new can of worms

Birth-control ruling

Birth-control ruling (Pete Marovich / Bloomberg / July 2, 2014)

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some companies have the right to subvert a federal law in order to remain consistent with their religious beliefs (I'll get to how absurd it is that a company can have a "religious belief" in a moment). In this case, it was Hobby Lobby's religious belief that birth control is immoral, which the court's ruling says allows Hobby Lobby to refuse to pay for certain forms of contraception through employee insurance.

There's a certain irony involved when a group of individuals interested in reducing the number of unintended pregnancies -- and by extension, the number of abortions performed or children born dependent on government programs like Welfare or Medicaid -- oppose making widely available one of the most effective methods of preventing unintended pregnancies. Those celebrating the Supreme Court's recent "Hobby Lobby" decision do understand that this will lead to more abortions, or at the very least, more young mothers "looking for a government hand-outs," don't they?

I digress.

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where a business -- one that sells yarn, construction paper and glitter, no less -- has its own religious views? Well, the answer to that is simple: 2010's Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision that declared -- to the dismay and disbelief of many -- that corporations are people. And people, as we know, have the freedom to practice whatever religion they see fit.

And who knows? Maybe the owners of Hobby Lobby really do find birth control -- which virtually all women ages 15-44 who have had sexual intercourse have used -- to be abhorrent and so against their own religious beliefs that they need to actively try to stop their employees from using it. If that's the case, though, why did their employee insurance policies cover various forms of contraceptives from the company's inception in 1972 until nearly immediately prior to filing suit in 2012? Odd, isn't it?

Some may say the timing was merely a coincidence, and that filing the lawsuit in September 2012 -- just two months before a presidential election -- was just yet another odd happenstance. I, instead, choose to believe that this was just another example of a corporation trying to rile voters up. In this case, Hobby Lobby played on the "Obama is coming to get your _____" meme that includes everything from guns to health care to property, itself (none of which, by the way, the president is actually doing).

Much like Papa John's CEO John Schnatter warned that the passage of the Affordable Care Act would force him to raise pizza prices because, *gasp*, he'd have to actually treat his employees like human beings that get sick and everything, this was simply the owners of Hobby Lobby doing what they could to paint the president as some anti-religious zealot prior to his reelection bid. (That threat from Schnatter, by the way? A few years later, he is still hamming it up with Peyton Manning in commercials, and pizza prices have yet to skyrocket.)

Regardless of how this started, or for what reason, Hobby Lobby found itself the victor of a Supreme Court challenge this week, and the consequences will be far-reaching.

How long will it be before we begin seeing excuses like, "I am the CEO of a large financial services company, and my religion says that pornography and alcohol are vices that must be avoided. Therefore, I have chosen to simply not pay my employees at all -- or to pay them in the form of coupons for items approved by my personal religion -- as really, by the transitive property, any money I pay through payroll was mine at a time, and I have a deeply held religious belief against pornography and alcohol, which they very well may purchase should I pay them."

Or maybe a Christian banker will say, "Since my religion condemns gluttony, I have a right to exclude coverage for heart disease in the insurance policies offered. As my religion also looks down upon drunkards, we will also exclude coverage of any liver-based illnesses."

Or in an extreme case, a devout follower of Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science, which generally doesn't believe in any sort of medical intervention, could say, "I do not believe in any form of medical treatment, therefore, my employees will not receive health insurance and will be paid in non-cash vouchers that can be redeemed for all goods and services except those related to medical science."

The examples could go on, and the situations could become more absurd. While generally, "slippery slope" arguments tend to be slightly nonsensical, the step from "Citizens United" to "Hobby Lobby" leads me to believe that we should be very afraid of the precedents being set.

This ruling opens the doors to a world in which companies can cite "closely held religious beliefs" to create loopholes to get around insurance mandates, minimum wage laws, child labor laws, and even the tax code. While you may "stand with Hobby Lobby" now, you may not like the can of worms they've opened up.

"The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield," wrote Justice Ginsburg in her dissent. I'm inclined to agree.

Parker Marie Molloy is a media activist and RedEye special contributor. Parker's work has appeared in publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times to The Advocate Magazine.

 

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