Tag Archives: contraception

Hobby Lobby: The Corporation Cult & Creeping Theocracy

1 Jul

From browser

On Monday, an all-male majority chorus of Supreme Court Justices determined that a for-profit corporation’s right to exercise its religion is inviolable, and women should probably dummy up and why aren’t they barefoot and pregnant, making them a sandwich in the kitchen, by the way? 

To clarify the ruling’s logic

(a) people have a right to free exercise of religion, under the Constitution but within the context of this case, pursuant to the 1993 “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”
(b) corporations are people; 
(c) therefore, closely held (non-publicly-traded) for-profit corporations are free to impose their owners’ “sincere religious beliefs” on employees. 

The RFRA sets up a scheme whereby a law of general applicability that allegedly interferes with a person’s free exercise of religion be strictly scrutinized to determine if it is constitutional.  The law was passed in response to American Indians’ complaints that federal actions were interfering with their ability to practice their religion and hold services. It also extends to American Indians’ use of peyote in services, and it has been cited as protecting Rastafarians from prosecution for marijuana possession.

When your smug Obama-hating buddies start in with “unconstitutional”, that’s not this case. The Hobby Lobby decision did not rule on the constitutionality of anything. 

The law is designed to protect people’s ability to worship by applying strict scrutiny to any accusation that a law of general application is violating someone’s free exercise rights. “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The test a court will apply assesses whether the burden on religion is in the  “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” The interest must be more than just routine, or a simple efficiency improvement, and relates instead to “core constitutional issues”. Secondly, the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Hobby Lobby, however, is not a person and is not exercising a religion. It is a corporate entity – a legal fiction – that sells picture frames and scrapbooking supplies. It’s not a “small business”, because this craft store chain has 15,000 employees and over 550 stores nationwide. It’s a closely held corporation, meaning it has corporate status but its shares are not publicly traded. Its fictional corporate “personhood” enables Hobby Lobby to operate and enter into contracts while limiting shareholder liability. The owners of Hobby Lobby’s shares are all evangelical Christians, and they make much of that on the company’s website. 

Hobby Lobby offers health insurance to its employees, but in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act, the policies needed to cover certain types of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby claims that it objected only to 4 of the 20 specified drugs and devices, because it believes them to be abortifacients – a point that is, itself, open to debate. (Plan B, Ella, and two types of IUDs were affected. These are the morning-after and week-after pill and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. The Health and Human Services regulation at issue did not mandate RU-486 be covered. Scientifically, these are not “abortifacients”). 

Hobby Lobby itself was not mandated to hand contraceptives or IUDs to its employees, but merely to offer health insurance plans that covered them. Hobby Lobby argued that this mandate violated the company’s right to freely exercise its religion and sought injunctive relief enabling them to not pay for coverage of the four objectionable drugs and devices.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito sided with Hobby Lobby. The majority, assuming the government had a compelling interest at stake, had a less intrusive way of meeting its goals. For instance, the government could pay for the devices and drugs itself, or mandate the insurers to pay for them. 

So, the outrage over Hobby Lobby is overblown insofar as it’s being made to seem as if the company objected to all contraception. It is not, however, overblown on two other points; namely, the notion that corporations are somehow sentient beings that have “faith”, and the notion that your employer can interfere with and micromanage the coverages you contract for with your health insurer. Remember – it is the policyholder who is the contracting party. 

As Justice Ginsburg’s dissent pointed out, this is a wild expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual liberties. She noted that the majority’s decision, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.” The majority basically responded that this was all no biggie. 

Corporate personhood is a legal fiction – a convenience. Yet now we’re to believe that fictional people can hold real religious beliefs – and in many cases, the rights of the fictional person override the rights of a human being. Hobby Lobby as a corporation cannot exercise religion – physically or otherwise. This is the right-wing elite’s dream of expanding the cult of the corporation – something that kicked off when the Citizens United case declared that corporations can have 1st Amendment rights to spend unlimited money to influence elections. 

Justice Alito explained why corporations should sometimes be regarded as persons. “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” he wrote. “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Justice Ginsburg said the commercial nature of for-profit corporations made a difference.

“The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” she wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.”

If Hobby Lobby can, by dint of its religious personhood, pick and choose which statutes and regulations of general application it will follow, the same is true of any closely held corporation, regardless of religion. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religion and reject a health insurance mandate for certain prescriptions, then any for-profit corporation can claim “free exercise” and religion rights to reject anti-discrimination laws in hiring, or public accommodations laws. How soon before companies like Hobby Lobby have a “no gays need apply” signs out front, or “no handicapped applicants will be considered”, or “transgendered people and transvestites stay out”. 

With this ruling, it should be mandatory that companies such as Hobby Lobby issue a formal disclosure of the corporate entity’s religious beliefs so that employees can make an informed choice whether to be employed there. It won’t, though, because we have elevated corporate personhood above human personhood, and we have elevated Christianity above all other religious beliefs. 

Welcome to the new theocracy.

We Get Mail (UPDATED)

9 Feb
I received the following from the Erie County Republican Party. Apparently, there isn’t a culture war the Republicans don’t like losing. Again and again. (UPDATE: A New York State mandate dating to 2002 already requires the Catholic Church to provide contraception services to their employees. The Church sued to be exempted from that mandate, and lost.)
 
Local Catholic Republicans Call Upon Hochul and Higgins to
Oppose Obama’s Big- Government Policies That Violate Religious Liberties
 

Buffalo, NY – Several Catholic Erie County Republicans Leaders have called upon the local Congressional delegation to oppose the Obama Administrations decision to require all employers, including the Catholic Church, to provide health insurance coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. By choosing not to comply with this decision that interferes with their beliefs, the move would shut off millions of dollars in funding for Catholic charitable organizations that provide help to struggling families, the sick and elderly and other needy Americans who benefit from their good works.

There’s a poignant irony at play when the Republican Party – which has for the last 20+ years aligned itself and promoted in its platform the inclusion of religion in government and civic life – complains that the government is interfering with religion. (Something about having cake & eating it, too.) A requirement that a business and employer – such as the Catholic Church – must provide the same health insurance as any other employer is not infringing on religious freedoms. After all, assuming the Catholic Church is immune from anti-discrimination statutes and only employs members of the Catholic Church (an untrue assumption), the question of whether contraception or abortion services will be used by those employees is completely moot. Right? Because we all know that Catholics don’t use birth control, don’t have abortions, don’t get divorced, and faithfully obey all of the Church’s rules.  
 

Everyone loves to be lectured by Nancy Naples!

While this topic has forced President Obama and his political machine into damage control, several local leaders have noted the silence of Congressman Brian Higgins and Congresswoman Kathy Hochul.  We have already seen Democrats who were defeated because of their government healthcare takeover vote come out and say that they “ Wouldn’t have voted for ObamaCare had I known Obama Administration to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic Colleges and Universities to pay for contraception…”
Interesting, since Hochul wasn’t around to vote for Obamacare.  Certainly the line between civil government and religious faith is a difficult one to walk, especially in a predominately Catholic place like Buffalo. The fundamental question, though, comes down to whether the electorate thinks that women should have access to contraception or not. This is a battle that has long been won on the side of women and I’m tickled to see the Republicans using it as so blatant a political football.
 
Remember that this regulation doesn’t force the Catholic Church, which has a longstanding and principled anti-choice stance on abortion, to do anything with respect to abortion. But if you want to make sure society has more abortions, more often, then start taking away women’s birth control. The government is not, e.g., forcing Catholic Health to perform abortions or give out the pill. It’s not compelling the Church to do anything but provide its female employees with the ability to obtain copay-free contraception, if they so desire
 
I mean, thank God we have prominent Catholic females like Emilio Colaicovo and Dennis Vacco standing up for equal rights, right?  Because this isn’t about whether Obamacare is forcing the church to hand out the pill during Communion, as this GOP release would have you think.  This is about a longstanding Republican war on female sexuality, and on sex itself – one that they lost long ago, and have now found a faith-based ally to help them try and score political points in the era of the reactionary so-called “tea party.”
 
The argument they’re trying to frame is a Constitutional one based in the freedom to practice religion freely, but there’s also a Constitutional provision called the “Equal Protection Clause” within the 14th Amendment, as well a long-established right to personal privacy in matters relating to sexuality.  A rule requiring the Catholic Church to provide health coverage for its female employees that includes contraceptive and other sex-related services doesn’t prohibit the Church from continuing its longstanding prohibition on all non-procreative sex. 
 
The truth, of course, is that Catholic institutions don’t exclusively employ Catholics. Catholic Universities, for instance, hire loads of people from all faiths and backgrounds. Why should, for instance, a Jewish female professor at Canisius be forced by her employer to have no free access to reproductive medical services and medications? Does Canisius have the right to hover over their employees and ensure that they spend their paychecks only on Church-approved items? 
 
The Erie County GOP isn’t concerned about that, though. They’re not interested in a compromise, such as the one the Obama Administration is attempting to reach with these Churches (a simple way out of this would be to give individual employees the right to opt-in for reproductive services on their own initiative – that it would be available to them, but not by default). 
“While Mrs. Hochul and Mr. Higgins can be found often in front of any camera, why haven’t we heard from them on this issue?  Why do they refuse to stand on the side of decency and our faith,” questioned Emilio Colaiacovo, Counsel to the Erie County Republican Committee.  “It would appear that Congressman Higgins and Congresswoman Hochul stand with Nancy Pelosi who favors abortion on demand and other policies that violate the conscience of Catholics across the country,” added Colaiacovo.
Well, yeah. Duh. Higgins and Hochul are pro-choice. They’re also pro-contraception. Hell, Higgins voted to expand stem cell research to cure disease.  This is a surprise requiring a quote from the Republican Party’s local lawyer? What does abortion have to do with this? What does Nancy Pelosi have to do with this (apart from the fact that, as a female Californian with an ethnic name, they misogynistically demonize her even when completely beside any reasonable point.)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after first promising not to do so, have mislead  American Catholics by requiring the Church, and its institutions, to provide services that violate the conscience and the teachings of the Church.  And this is just the beginning. What’s next? What else didn’t the President and Congress tell us was in this bill?
Did you not read it? Do you need it read to you, like a very long but slightly less boring version of “Goodnight Moon”?
“This is a serious violation of the most fundamental of all rights – the freedom of religious liberty,” said Dennis Vacco, the former New York State Attorney General.  “I urge Kathy and Brian to stand with Church leaders and parishioners who find this to be an unconscionable intrusion on our first Amendment liberties,” concluded Vacco.
Not really, Mr. Vacco. The law doesn’t compel the Church to hand out the pill. It merely requires you to make contraception available to your employees through your health insurance plan.  And 98% of American women have used contraception at least once. Including Catholic women
Congressman Higgins and Congresswoman Hochul are both seeking re-election in districts that are heavily Catholic.
Yes, they are. (Hey, wasn’t the GOP all upset about how, e.g., the #Occupy movement was dividing Americans? Proposing the legislative division of Americans based on their faith would to me seem even more unfair, if not downright unconstitutional). 
“The Catholic Church provides, through its own generosity, food and shelter for the poor, medicine for the sick, education for our children, and other services for the families of our community.  It is unthinkable that Congressman Higgins and Congresswoman Hochul are more interested in party politics instead of standing up for their own faith and what is just and right,”  stated Nancy Naples, former Erie County Comptroller.  “We deserve to hear from our local Congressional delegation whether they stand with our faith community or with President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Washington interests that have ignored Western New York for far too long,” concluded Naples.
What is unconscionable and unthinkable is that Nancy Naples, who as County Comptroller presided over an epic fiscal meltdown of County Finances less than a decade ago isn’t ashamed and embarrassed to poke her head up and bluster about anything at all, but especially to politicize faith and birth control.  This isn’t about Washington interests – this isn’t about whether Nancy Pelosi gets access to the pill. This is about the interests of women
Local Catholic Republicans will continue to raise this issue until Congressman Higgins and Congresswoman Hochul advise local Catholics whether they stand with them or with Washington.
That’s incorrectly written. It should read: 
 
Local Catholic women will continue to raise this issue until Congressman Higgins and Congresswoman Hochul advise local Catholics whether they stand with a Church patriarchy or with women