The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the Hobby Lobby case, declaring that companies, at least those privately held, are not required to provide birth control benefits under their health insurance plans when providing those benefits is against the religious beliefs of the company’s owners. Whether the decision sparks other lawsuits or remains a relatively narrow example of an owners’ religious beliefs being able to dictate the scope of health benefits provided to employees remains to be seen.
The underlying issue that the Supreme Court did not address, and which Congress has also steadfastly ignored, is the degree to which Constitutional and statutory “rights” of individuals have been either enhanced or diminished by the exercise of the “right” to apply religious freedom” to others.
In the Hobby Lobby case, the Court verdict essentially states that an employer can effectively limit the access of employees to health care, solely on the basis of religious beliefs. The employer is not denying birth control services to employees, because employees can theoretically purchase those services on their own. But there are other aspects to consider, which the Court either did not consider or decided were not important enough to be a factor. First, when an employee must pay additional funds for health services that the law declares other businesses must provide to their employees, the employee’s access is diminished or costs are increasing, if not both, and they are in a position whereby their total effective compensation is effectively lowered by the employer’s assertion of religious freedom. Additionally, other businesses, which do not have a religious exemption, will likely pay higher costs for employee healthcare insurance.
Thus, in effect, others must pay for Hobby Lobby’s “religious beliefs.” Obviously, this would not be the case if there were not a law requiring insurance coverage, but there is, and the Court did not strike down the ACA as infringing on religious beliefs. In effect, the Court’s decisions declare that a public policy requiring health care coverage is Constitutional, but that effectively any employers with a clear religious affiliation can refuse to provide coverage for any procedure against their beliefs. This effectively equates privately held corporations with churches, even though churches are non-profits, and money-making corporations like Hobby Lobby not. All this brings up an interesting situation, because the Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” but there’s nothing in the Constitution to forbid the Court from issuing a legal opinion that effectively states that religious beliefs trump civil law and can be used to deny some citizens benefits that most others are entitled to receive under that civil law. This strikes me as a rather dangerous precedent, particularly when it is endorsed and supported by so many of those who have railed against the fact that Islamic Sharia law supersedes civil law in the Middle East. It’s wrong for Muslims to have Islamic law trump civil law, but fine for American corporations to sue, and win, for religious beliefs to trump civil law?
Not that any of the far right will see, or care, about the hypocrisy involved. They got what they wanted, and that’s all that matters to them.