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.

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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      1. 1857: People are property.
        2014: Property is people.

        (Also, why the hell does it seem every 14th Amendment case these days has nothing to do with race?)

  1. “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”

    Well, it sure as shit flies in the face of biblical law.

    “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

  2. No, the ruling is still gibberish. I don’t care how “narrow” they claim it is. Something like 95% of all companies are “closely held”, and that, in some cases, includes ones with hundreds of thousands of employees (like, just about anything “owned by” the Koch brothers). So, to suggest that this is “narrow”, in the sense that it only effects a small number of people is nonsense. Worse, the suggestion made is that there might be “alternatives” to gain the same help. Sure.. if you think red tape, inefficiency, or “help” in the form of government programs that either don’t exist, don’t yet support an alternative, or do exist, but at being actively pursued for defunding and/or elimination by the very same people claiming that this ruling is sane… then, yep, there are “alternatives”. If you mean, “There is in any practical, real, or permanent, sense, another means to get the same thing, without paying out of pocket.”, then no, no there really isn’t, and if the right has their way, it will be even more impractical, difficult to get at, or impossible.

    None of which addresses, to me, one of the biggest issues, which is the idea that, somehow, despite the fact that some of this stuff can actually be “medical necessities”, in some cases, just like vaccines, and other things, which are “not” covered by such an exemption, having the, “deeply held religious belief that the only things covered by the mandate do things they actually don’t”, should be, in any way shape or form, a “protected” religious position. Its not like thinking that, “Eating bacon is a sin.”, where there is no conceivable case where someone would ***need*** to eat bacon to avoid something worse (like a high risk, possibly lethal, pregnancy), or similarly trivial issues. This isn’t “trivial”, nor is it something that doesn’t risk the health of people who are a) not, by any real choice, in a church group, or similar “voluntary” organization (sorry, but sometimes you might not have any choice but a job with one of multiple places that decide this crap makes sense, and all opt out, and you can’t just decide to “not have a job” at all), and b) will thus always share, agree with, or be willing to abide by, the *beliefs* of some twit that just happens to have their name on the business license.

    Its also fails to address how this “never” stops with “limited application”, but someone is always pushing for more (this being the perfect example, with people who signed the bill that this makes this ruling even legal, at all, saying it goes far beyond the intent of the protections they intended to extend, by passing it).

    1. What’s particularly bad is, they also argued that if Hobby Lobby’s religion says Plan B causes abortion, then it does. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t: It just prevents ovulation.)

      This could open a whole new “My religion says _BLATANT LIE_, therefore _BLATANT LIE_ is true.” line of thinking.

  3. “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.”

    That’s a bit disingenuous. The portion of the law that was struck down forced businesses owners to do something they didn’t want to do. Government isn’t forcing people to to buy goods from corporations who choose not to provide contraceptives, nor is it forcing anyone to work for them. I think this ruling more accurately says one person’s freedom does not supersede another’s.

    Those who hold the reins of government today may not (likely won’t) be the same people holding the reins tomorrow; this decision can be changed on a whim by legislation and/or the next group of justices. This fact applies to ALL the many, many laws, rules and regulations government requires us to live our lives by. This is why I believe we should be much less generous when it comes to the power we give to our government. A law which demands behavior we agree with today can easily be changed to prohibit that behavior tomorrow. We should be sure government’s power to control our behavior is as narrow as possible.

    Thankfully we still retain control of one behavior we may use as a very powerful (the most powerful?) weapon against corporations we disagree with. What the government cannot do (at least not yet) is force you to do buy stuff from or work for someone you don’t want to. We should be focusing on getting THAT word out. To me, this would stand a far better chance of affecting change in Hobby Lobby’s employment policies than bemoaning another capricious SCOTUS ruling. Hell, who knows? It might even make other corporations stop and think too.

    1. The government isn’t forcing anyone to work for those companies, but neither did it force those companies to incorporate themselves in the first place. When the owners chose to form that corporation, it gave them certain protections, but it also gave them responsibilities towards the people they employ, which shouldn’t be neglected when religious beliefs conflict with one another.

  4. This is true:

    They then write “no conceivable definition of “person” includes natural persons and a non-profit corporation, but not for-profit corporations.”

    They do, in fact, write that. But it’s bullshit, because the government didn’t exempt non-profit corporations on the grounds that those corporations are people with religious beliefs. Nonprofits were exempted because they are incorporated for the purpose of promulgating a religious point of view.. The majority is basically gaslighting you in that sentence.

    1. It is only true because no conceivable definition of person would include corporations of any type.

      The grounds for the ruling are spurious, Alito has basically given up pretending he isn’t a GOP hack. But as they point out, the administration has already worked out how to nullify non-profits ability to interfere with their employees so they can do the same for Hobby Lobby and the bigots. What they don’t say is that since this is an executive order President Santorum could reverse it.

      Its lousy politics for the GOP then. They have riled up everyone with their war on women to no effect. But that seems to be par for the course for them, its the nastiness that is the point for these people.

      1. Except that the government does define “person” as including corporations in lots of places. This isn’t just in SCOTUS decisions, not anymore; it’s everywhere. That’s why a “that’s f’ed up, corporations are not people” amendment is required.

        The SCOTUS is abiding by ordinary, f’ed up case law and ordinary law in saying that for-profit corporations are people just as much as physical persons and nonprofits. Where they are gaslighting you is in telling you that the administration did X thing for Y reason, and they are going to apply Y reasoning to for-profits, when the actual reason the administration did that was B.

        This gaslighting is part of the attempt to stopper the drain they opened with this decision, an effort to narrow the decision artificially by lying to you.

  5. The whole basis of corporate law, the whole motivation behind forming a LLC, is that the corporation is NOT the people who own it. Someone gets killed in one of your factories? That’s not my fault, it’s the corporation’s. The corporation runs up a lot of debt? Don’t look at me, I’m not the corporation. Now, the owners want to be able to disassociate themselves from the corporation when anything bad happens but be able to claim that they are the corporation when it comes to birth control, and claim that their personal free speech is being squelched if their are any limitations on the corporation’s involvement in politics.

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