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I begrudgingly admit that I think the SCOTUS decision yesterday was correct. I say that with no small amount of irritation. SCOTUS properly interpreted the laws, particularly the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The problem here is that the provisions cited in the RFRA are broad beyond any reasonable measure. While the majority opinion would like to pretend that the decision does not apply broadly, the fact is that it very well does, and I echo the sentiments of Justice Ginsburg that the court has now “ventured into a minefield.”
Here is the gist of the complaint by Hobby Lobby, copied from the Supreme Court decision:
In these cases, the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point. [emphasis mine]
The absurdity of this argument is not readily apparent with the complaint stated as such, but allow me to rephrase the statement by generalizing the bolded segments:
In these cases, the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere religious beliefs and that it would violate their religion to facilitate activity contrary to those religious beliefs.
I hope this restatement is fair, but please correct me otherwise. The absurdity should be more apparent. A significant number of religious people have religious objections to a variety of medical treatments, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses’ objections to such things as blood transfusions. While I have never heard of a Jehovah’s Witness refusing to pay for medical coverage of blood transfusions, this is a proper use of substitution; it is a sincerely-held religious belief, and coverage of blood transfusions would violate their religion.
This was, thankfully, something that the justices considered rather explicitly, yet in considering it, they descend further into absurdity. The decision states the following:
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.
They clarify later that the distinction here is that in cases where the government can provide a service which is less restrictive of personal religious beliefs, they must. In this case, the government can foot the bill for these procedures. Well, then, why can’t the government foot the bill for vaccinations? For blood transfusions? Surely that would be less restrictive. Justice Ginsburg notes this in her dissent:
Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)? According to counsel for Hobby Lobby, “each one of these cases … would have to be evaluated on its own … apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.
It is a clear inconsistency: upholding religious beliefs about the sanctity of life in one case, while failing to provide less restrictive means of upholding religious beliefs in others, is entirely arbitrary and a textbook case of special pleading. I would surmise that many of the mines in this proverbial minefield will explode in coming years, with the RFRA either becoming so universally applicable as to render the government powerless against religion or the RFRA either being dramatically revised or thrown out.
So there you have it: this liberal agrees with the court but calls it on its inconsistencies in not applying this elsewhere. Any failure to find a less restrictive method of preserving religious beliefs is simply a failure of creativity. The problem here is not the court but the law (seems the writers at Slate agree with me). We should overturn or revise the RFRA.