Some Questions about the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision Explained
Yesterday when the SCOTUS decision came down siding with Hobby Lobby in their case to be allowed to opt-out of the ACA contraception mandate based on their sincerely held religious beliefs, I was just as dumbfounded as the rest of you. Like others, I worried about the breadth of the decision. Does this mean that any corporation could opt-out of any law, provided they have a religious belief to back it up?
Luckily it was soon made clear that the decision was much narrower than that and as Amy explained in her post yesterday, only applied to the contraception mandate and only to closely held corporations.
In a way though, that seemed to make even less sense. If a corporation can get an exemption from the contraception mandate due to their religious beliefs, why can’t they get out of following other laws as well? Why couldn’t a Christian Scientist business owner refuse to offer health insurance that covered blood transfusions for his/her employees? Why couldn’t an evangelical Christian refuse to serve a same-sex couple at his/her restaurant? What possibly could be the reasoning that allows this decision not to bleed over into those laws as well?
I finally got curious enough that I decided to actually read the opinion for myself. The entire decision is 95 pages long, which includes a 6-page summary, a 49 page opinion written by Justice Alito and a 35 page dissent from Justice Ginsburg. Now, I am not a lawyer and much of the decision is quite densely worded and full of complicated law stuff so rather than skim everything and likely get very little out of it, I stuck to reading the summary in a lot of detail. That was enough to answer most of my own questions about the decision.
From my reading of the opinion (and again, to be clear, I am not a lawyer) it seems as though the thing that makes the contraception mandate special is that non-profit corporations already have an exemption to the law. SCOTUS defines “person” as including “corporations … as well as individuals,” the definition listed in the US Code. SCOTUS goes on to point out that Congress already gave non-profits religious rights as “persons” under that definition when they provided an exemption to the contraception mandate for non-profits who claim a religious belief. They then write “no conceivable definition of “person” includes natural persons and a non-profit corporation, but not for-profit corporations.”
In other words, the Court believes that special personhood rights cannot be given to non-profits but not to for-profits. It’s either both or none. If a non-profit can get an exemption based on a religious belief then a for-profit should be able to get the same exemption and also be able to claim a religious belief.
Cases like vaccinations and blood transfusion coverage or discrimination of same-sex couples are not covered by the decision because there are not currently laws that allow non-profits to have an exemption to these laws based on the organization’s religious beliefs. Hence why the decision applies only to the ACA contraception mandate.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the SCOTUS seems very worried about discrimination of for-profit corporations. As written in the opinion, “any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.”
Exactly. The fact that non-profits are allowed to practice religion freely but for-profit corporations are restricted in their religious practice merely because “their purpose is simply to make money” is clear discrimination of the poor, marginalized for-profits. Well, ok “poor” was probably not the right word to use here, but you get what I mean.
One of the most interesting parts of the decision was that SCOTUS made it clear that the government is allowed to step in and provide the contraception coverage. So, you know when everyone at Fox News and a couple of your crazy relatives on Facebook were freaking the fuck out about their tax dollars going to pay for contraception for all the slutty sluts and you had to point out that the government was not paying for the contraception, the employers and insurance company were? Well…funny story. Now that some corporations no longer have to include contraception coverage for their employees, the likely outcome will be the government stepping in and paying for it. So THANK YOU CONSERVATIVES FOR OUR FUTURE GOVERNMENT FUNDED CONTRACEPTION!
Lastly, I’m going to leave you with this quote from the SCOTUS decision.
Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.
That’s right, my friends. You heard it from SCOTUS. The religious liberty of the people who own and control corporations is more important than the freedom and liberty of the people who work for corporations. I guess some of us are just more “person” than others.