Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Coming Soon: The Ramifications Of Allowing A Sincerely Held Religious Belief To Trump Science

If you've been paying any attention to the news lately, you're aware that the Supreme Court just held that Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations did not have to abide by the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate. Of course, our congresswoman agreed wholeheartedly with this decision.

Today's ruling marks a victory for religious freedom and for the American people. We live in a nation founded on the fundamental right that all people can live and work according to their beliefs - without fear of punishment from the federal government. This morning the Supreme Court defended liberty by ruling that American family business owners should not be forced to choose between their faith or unlawful, unnecessary government mandates. While we celebrate this triumph for religious freedom today, our work is not finished. We must keep fighting to ensure that the Constitutional rights of other individuals and organizations are also protected. ~ Cathy McMorris Rodgers

What she doesn't address is the effect of the corporation's "religious freedom" being imposed upon its employees, who happen to be real persons--and women--by the way.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the court's decision I'd like to point out. 

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling govern­mental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” ~ Supreme Court of the United States, 13-354. 

Nothing in RFRA suggests a congressional intent to depart from the Dictionary Act definition of “person,” which “include[s] cor­porations, . . . as well as individuals.”

1 US Code § 1 states: 

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise— 

... the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals; 

Since the context of the language in the RFRA uses "person" in this sense and does not indicate "person" applies only to human beings, Justice Alito is allowing that the corporation is a person in this case. 

He also says:

The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.
[The contraceptive mandate] requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.

The contraceptives at issue are two morning after pills and two IUDs. They are medically and scientifically contraceptives. They are not abortifacients. (By the way, Hobby Lobby had no problem covering them before the Affordable Care Act became law.) However, in this case the business owners' incorrect religious belief holds more sway over Justice Alito et al than fact. Note: Also, contraceptives are often prescribed for medical purposes other than preventing pregnancy. 

The court tries to head off the shit storm of lawsuits this decision will result in by trying to narrow the application of their decision. 

This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g.,for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice. 

Why won't this do any good? First of all, the court determined that a corporation is a person under the RFRA. Secondly, a sincerely held religious belief is allowed to trump medical fact. Third, although only four contraceptives were at issue, their ruling applies to the entire contraceptive mandate.

In finding for Hobby Lobby Justices Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas do not state why a religious belief about some contraceptives is more defensible than a religious belief about vaccinations or blood transfusions. But they may likely find themselves in that position since this decision throws the barn door wide open.

1 US Code § 1 contains another definition that I think applies here. 

...the words “insane” and “insane person” shall include every idiot, insane person, and person non compos mentis;

I'm sure you're smart enough to figure out what I mean with that.

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