In which I repeatedly smash my face on my desk concerning Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS & the RFRA

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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.


About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
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9 Responses to In which I repeatedly smash my face on my desk concerning Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS & the RFRA

  1. eyeontheuniverse says:

    It’s pretty simple: This particular exception is OK because it is held by a large number of people of the dominant faith. Less popular beliefs be damned.

    • Sadly, that is likely the case. If a Muslim or Jainist had voiced an objection, it would likely have been shot down. This is, of course, conjecture, but it is highly probable.

      • eyeontheuniverse says:

        Yep. If the issue had been raised by a vegan who didn’t want to provide healthcare tested on animals I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have passed. Now it’s all fair game, though, because in theory the government could provide any of these services. This ruling appears to logically lead to a government sponsored national healthcare system with opt outs for religious people. A good case of people who should have been careful what they wished for.

  2. It seems to me that religious idiots who oppose abortion should embrace contraception. Let’s prevent the need for an abortion. What this is really about is that the Hobby Lobby company just doesn’t want the expense of the prevention.

    • In the same way that I oppose statements of what I *really* believe, I would suggest we not try to fabricate beliefs for HL. They object to the potential of these four medicines to cause a fertilized egg to pass rather than implant, resulting in its death. Whether or not this is stupid is another question entirely.

    • eyeontheuniverse says:

      It doesn’t cost them anything actually. I worked in the industry for a while, and everyone knows birth control (and abortion) save costs as pregnancy is enormously expensive, and infants aren’t exactly free. HL should actually pay more than other companies as a result of this, but their providor would be crazy to enforce realistic pricing and risk a political nightmare.

  3. insanityranch says:

    “The Supreme Court made a grave error today. The balance between religious freedom and other compelling interests has always been tenuous, but we may very well remember today’s decision as the moment that balance was radically recalibrated. Not only has the Court, for the first time in history, expanded the definition of religious freedom to include for-profit corporate entities, it has determined that the free exercise of those employers outweighs that of their employees. The First Amendment is at its best when it is used to protect the rights of minorities from the whims of the powerful. Today’s decision, which gives the powerful the right to force their religious beliefs on those around them, is a far cry from the best traditions of religious freedom.”

    “There are many questions that have been left unanswered in this decision that will further imperil our historic understanding of religious freedom. Chief among them is the Court determining that all corporations are covered under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which indicates that this decision could eventually move beyond closely held corporations. Additionally, the Court may have only ruled on the contraception mandate today, but there is no reason to believe the implications of this decision will be limited to that issue.”

    “I find strength in knowing that we have lost at the Court before and that religious freedom has not been so easily shaken. We will find a way, through legal action and through legislation, to repair the damage that was done to our democracy today.” (Dr. C. Welton Gaddy / Interfaith Alliance)

    I disagree with your analysis of the correctness of this decision. It is, perhaps, defensible on a particular reading of both the RFRA and the Constitution, but defensible is not the same as correct. In fact, this is a perfect example of what a Facebook friend of mine recently called “motivated reasoning”. It is taking quite carefully selected premises while disregarding any contradictory premises (not refuting them; disregarding them), then logic chopping to a desired conclusion. Just as the claim that IUDs are abortifacents because we _believe_ them to be so is fallacious, so is the insistence that commercial entities are persons with rights of conscience is fallacious. As Lincoln observed, calling a sheep’s tail a leg doesn’t make it one!

  4. Pingback: I no longer condone most of the views on this site | The Discerning Christian

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