Question of the Week: July 9, 2014

Religious freedom claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were already walking an irrational line. Now with the Supreme Court’s decision to side with Hobby Lobby, extreme claims are coming out of the woodwork.

The Supreme Court opened up a huge can of worms, so how can we fight against the progress now being erased? What do you think the long term consequences of Hobby Lobby will be, and what can we do to change it?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below. The best suggestion will get a copy of An Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins.

 


Winner: jg

Winning comment:

To change the Hobby Lobby decision, we will need a supreme court ruling reversing the decision or a constitutional amendment that guarantees corporations are not people (wolf-pac & moveon.org are working on this) or an amendment protecting workers’ health rights from employer preferences. We could (and I believe should) pass an amendment setting term limits to Supreme Court Justices. The idea of impartiality is ludicrous and implausible and easily crushed when considering this ruling alone (if all federal judges were impartial, why is there always concern from opposing political parties when a president is nominating a justice). You have 5 male catholic men appointed by conservative presidents that ruled to restrict birth control for women. If they are impartial individuals that only decide on constitutional interpretations, there would be a lot more unanimous decisions and not as many divisions among party lines (the party that appointed them) on hot button topics….it would be robotic to a degree. We got rid of the monarchy for similar reasons we should get rid of supreme court justices serving for life (there’s a reason we change out presidents and congressmen/women). There needs to be a constant renewal (every 6 years say – every term and a half of presidency) of justices to ensure that those on the supreme court are an updated reflection of the changing culture of society (which would be reflected by the changing presidents who nominate the justices).”

29 COMMENTS

  1. The problem is that the government should not be telling ANY employers what they should or should not cover in their insurance programs. If you don’t like the insurance (salary, benefits, vacation, etc.) buy it elsewhere or work elsewhere. Hobby Lobby and religious institutions should not get special treatment.

    • If the insurance package is part of the total employee package, why shouldn’t the employee be able to choose what’s in it? It’s for their health for goodness sake, not for the feelings or whims or religious delusions of the employer to dictate. How backward is the USA in social evolution…sheesh! Have a tiny peek at some more socially mature nations on the planet where universal healthcare is implemented instead of ‘individualism’ and medical insurers’ greed. Crikey, the level of ignorance and sheer bloody minded arrogance of American culture is flabbergasting, when are these guys (not you bigterguy, I mean Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court Men) going to grow up?

  2. The HL ruling by SCOTUS is only the tip of the iceberg. The radical right will jump on this like sharks at a feeding frenzy and push for everything. My worst fear is the imposition of a tax, AKA “Love offering” , to be paid by every working person which will go directly to the coffers of some politically well connected magachurch. (Probably Catholic since the majority of SCOTUS is Catholic.)

  3. My hope is that relatively few privately held organizations are willing to alienate staff and customers by following into HL’s footsteps. Those that do now stand a pretty decent chance at limiting benefits to align with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This can apply to blood transfusions, treatment of STDs, coverage of prenatal care for pregnancies from pre- or extramarital sex and technically, an employer who “sincerely” believes that prayer cures, could refuse medical treatment as part of their compensation package all together (though they will have a tough time attracting talent!). But the main problem here is the absolute corruption of the judicial system, in which decisions are clearly based upon the PERSONAL RELIGIOUS beliefs of judges and their willingness to apply perverse interpretations of the law to force these beliefs on the public. Our best bet now is to support overturning the decision or attempting to repeal RFRA. In addition, this is a critical time to openly speak about being atheists. Those who support the HL decision are extremely vocal about their position and we can’t allow them drown out our voices. No, it’s not my first choice to publicly discuss my beliefs (or lack thereof), but this is one hell of a worthy cause.

  4. What it means is really a hard question to answer. I’ve heard legal experts discuss it and even they aren’t sure. The theocrats on the court tried to limit the effects of the ruling to be very narrow. If you know anything about Bush V. Gore they took a similar approach there. But given the nature of this ruling it’s not clear if their attempt to make this a narrow ruling will really work. One thing that is virtually certain is that there will be more challenges on religious grounds to the ACA and probably to other laws as well.

    What we can do to ameliorate it is a much simpler question to answer at least for US citizens. Get off your ass and vote in the next election! And even better get involved now with various political groups working to get these maniacs and idiots out of office. That mostly means working for the democrats who have many issues of their own but compared to the theocrats who live in a delusional world with their own facts and logic there is no comparison.

    • I wonder if perhaps the best coarse of action would be to ” infiltrate ” the republican party ?
      They are, after all, the root of the problem. The best way to effect change is from within !
      That is how the religious groups did it.

      • I’ve actually thought about that. A very long time ago I wasn’t completely unsympathetic to some Republican ideas such as support for the free market, keeping government small and out of people’s personal lives, etc. Although even then I always felt that they were massively hypocritical, e.g., claiming to support small government but trying to ban abortion and encourage the US to use military force as the default foreign policy option. And I have some friends, maybe acquintances is a better word who believe in free markets and that actually agree with me quite a bit about foreign policy and drug policy issues but nominally are Republicans.

        But I just don’t think it’s possible. Maybe at some point but the Republicans are just too corrupt in every sense of the word. Their primaries are driven by people who I think quite literally could be considered insane they are so out of touch with basic facts and there is IMO absolutely no way to change that.

        But I do think you are on to something. The democrats are pretty abysmal as well. The best they can do for the next president is Hillary Clinton? Ugh. There have been times in US history where this has happened before. The Whig party for example used to be one of the major parties. It’s rare but it’s possible for new parties to emerge and get real power. I think there is a much better chance for something like that. A party that talks about free markets and individual liberty and not having us be Team America World police but doesn’t go for all the multicultural bullshit that the democrats love and that turn off so many average Americans. I hate to say it but I think such a party would also need to be very much for “gun rights”. American men need their penis substitutes. I think there could be a real opportunity for a party like that.

        • Here is a news article about some democrats who are taking the kind of policy positions I had in mind above when I talked about the possibility of a new political party. I would call these people (and the new party I think could just possibly emerge) Libertarians. But not Libertarians in the bullshit sense of people like Ron and Rand Paul where they are against things like civil rights, women’s rights, and all for massive state military power but REAL libertarians concerned with personal liberty as a major driving motive for political positions:

          http://www.alternet.org/election-2014/7-libertarian-upstarts-who-might-help-democrats-keep-their-us-senate-majority

        • I agree with your appraisal of the Republican party.
          At this point in history, I believe, there are a lot of people who lean to the right but not to the extreme of the GOP. They don’t want to vote Democrat either so end up not voting at all, or grudgingly, Republican.
          I live in Canada and the view I get of your two parties can be summed up as, the hippies or the church.
          America deserves better.

  5. Speaking from the position of an outsider, I’d say this ruling has allowed for a form of discrimination, ( well that’s stating the obvious I guess!). Perhaps not overtly so, but I very much doubt that anyone disagreeing with the the ethos of the company would bother applying for a job in this store.

    If I were able to boycott them I’d definitely do so, no matter what the inducements offered in the form of great products at exceptional prices. I hope they have difficulty finding staff and I hope this will prove to be a disincentive to other businesses keen to adopt such practices.

    • “but I very much doubt that anyone disagreeing with the the ethos of the company would bother applying for a job in this store.”

      Yes, that’s one of the favorite replies of the people who defend the rights of corporations over people. (I’m not saying you think that, just pointing out you aren’t in good company with that opinion) It overlooks the dire reality that many Americans face in regard to both job opportunities and healthcare. The economy has picked up in the US but for many people, especially the kind of people who would work for a despicable company like this, they don’t have lots of or even any other options. Many Americans simply aren’t in a position where they can turn down ANY job and once hired and with a bit of seniority it can be virtually impossible for them to find a better one.

      And the same goes for healthcare. Unless you have a truly disabling disease the government won’t provide it for you the way they do in most of the rest of the modern world and even with the modest reforms of the ACA the most affordable, often the ONLY truly affordable option is to get it via your job.

      • I realise now, that I was way off in my assessment of this situation and the implications. ( I would have dearly loved to delete my comment 30minutes after posting it. )I’ve just listened to a podcast of The Humanist Hour while I was otherwise engaged in mindless household drudgery, and I see that it’s far more nuanced than I thought. The crew on HH seemed to be saying that the main purpose was to undermine Obama. They also brought in other aspects of which I was not aware.

        It seems that it is all indicative of the lurch to the right by the theocrats, unless I’m misreading the signs.

          • @David July 10

            I don’t see it going down quite so easily myself. Over 300 million people, the majority of whom hold some sort of belief! I think it’s going to take a while. Perhaps once the groundswell of public opinion begins, the change will be swift. Hope so. :)

          • Thank you A4D. I didn’t know that would be the result. I’m very appreciative. I’ll have to make sure that I come to my senses in time, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

  6. To change the Hobby Lobby decision, we will need a supreme court ruling reversing the decision or a constitutional amendment that guarantees corporations are not people (wolf-pac & moveon.org are working on this) or an amendment protecting workers’ health rights from employer preferences. We could (and I believe should) pass an amendment setting term limits to Supreme Court Justices. The idea of impartiality is ludicrous and implausible and easily crushed when considering this ruling alone (if all federal judges were impartial, why is there always concern from opposing political parties when a president is nominating a justice). You have 5 male catholic men appointed by conservative presidents that ruled to restrict birth control for women. If they are impartial individuals that only decide on constitutional interpretations, there would be a lot more unanimous decisions and not as many divisions among party lines (the party that appointed them) on hot button topics….it would be robotic to a degree. We got rid of the monarchy for similar reasons we should get rid of supreme court justices serving for life (there’s a reason we change out presidents and congressmen/women). There needs to be a constant renewal (every 6 years say – every term and a half of presidency) of justices to ensure that those on the supreme court are an updated reflection of the changing culture of society (which would be reflected by the changing presidents who nominate the justices).

  7. It’s actually worse than that. Immediately following the decision, on July 1st, the 5-men, Catholic majority on the Supreme Court already broadened the so-called “narrow interpretation” and ordered lower courts to stay and reevaluate prior decisions against religious plaintiffs, cases where all forms of contraception are challenge! I believe that was their intention all along, crack the door first, then swing it wide open to their unjust bias.

    Corporations have been defined as a person-like entity long ago, but that’s not the issue of this case. It is deciding that any individual’s value beliefs, i.e. morals, can arbitrarily override a nation’s laws through the back door. Worst of all, it is based on irrational, religious justifications, ignoring scientific facts. This opens the door to anyone, business or individual to circumvent any law based on belief in fantasy.

    Since it’s a life-time appointment, other than having some of the justices drop dead and be replaced by real, impartial justices when a moderate, scientifically literal president is in office, I can’t think of any solution yet, unfortunately.

    Just saw jg’s comment. Term limit – good idea!

    How about religious justices recusing themselves on religious cases to avoid bias?

  8. The only real way around this is to have the employees represented and for this to happen I see a strengthening of Union organizations.
    Of course this is the exact opposite reaction most of these religious conservatives want.
    I really do not understand why people who work in business, government, or any situation of power feel it their responsibility to impose their own beliefs upon every one they come into contact with.
    If greed is their motivating force, they will discover a life of struggle no money can alleviate.

    If this situation persists in this country with the fundamentalist (of any and all religious leanings) continuing to escalate (anti gay rights, the HL case, teaching of creationism and such) the world they will leave behind is one of alienated individuals whose only outlet is violence.

    I genuinely hope we can counter these fearful people with knowledge and facts.

  9. The democrats are sponsoring a bill to over-ride the hobby lobby decision. I doubt it has much of a chance to pass the current congress. Here is a story about it:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/07/09/senate-democrats-to-unveil-bill-to-override-hobby-lobby-decision/

    Below is a partisan link, if you sign the petition I think you will get redirected to a democratic campaign form so normally I wouldn’t post it but if it’s against the rules I’m sure the mods will just delete the comment and anyway, I think a realistic answer to the question posed here: “what can we do to change it? ” has to at least partially involve partisan politics. Believe me I’m not a big fan of the democrats either.

    http://my.democrats.org/Override-Hobby-Lobby

  10. RFRA needs to be repealed. But this will not happen in today’s political environment. Regardless of how flawed RFRA is, the political Right sees Hobby Lobby as a victory and will now fight to save RFRA to preserve their victory. Dems can get out the vote in the midterm elections and do our best to overcome the history of the Party in the White House losing seats in Congress. I think this could be done if Dems don’t let themselves get dragged in the mud of rhetoric that is about to get unleashed in the run-up to the election. Come across as the adult in the room, get out the vote and Dems may keep the Senate and make gains in the House.

    I don’t think the Supreme Court “opened a huge can of worms”. Read Boerne v. Flores. Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas are telling us in Boerne that Congress opened a huge cam of worms in enacting RFRA. They stated, amongst other things, that as a result of RFRA, “Claims that a law substantially burdens someone’s exercise of religion will often be difficult to contest.” They foresaw rulings like today. These Justices still sit on the bench. Justice Stevens, in a concurring opinion, went on to say that RFRA is unconstitutional in that it demonstrates “governmental preference for religion, as opposed to irreligion”. These Conservative Justices did not like RFRA.

    With the votes to repeal RFRA in Congress unlikely, I would bring a case to SCOTUS challenging the constitutionality of RFRA. Now there may be a personal (Justice Scalia) and political dynamics (Supreme Court and Congress) playing here. Justice Scalia is the remaining adjudicator in Smith v. Oregon in which Congress chose to overrule with RFRA. Justice Scalia may feel vindicated. This may mean you have a sympathetic ear(‘s) sitting on the bench willing to rule RFRA unconstitutional. I am not a lawyer, but I think the constitutionality of RFRA was not ruled on in HL because the Solicitor General did not bring it up. Someone would have to bring a new case. I just found this amicus brief written by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

    http://ffrf.org/images/FFRF_HAMILTON_HobbyLobby_Amicus_FINAL.pdf

    They seem to be on top of this issue and seem capable of backing a case questioning the constitutionality of RFRA.

  11. Ultimately market forces will come into play. As more Americans reject religious dogma, more of them will consider this when it comes to employment. The package companies like Hobby Lobby offer will become uncompetative and employers who are more interested in getting the best staff over furthering their own ideology will win financially.

    There will also come a time when two religious “freedoms” will come into conflict, which as an atheist I always love to sit back and watch (until it gets bloody). Like all rulings that protect religious sensibilities, this will result in a sectarian bun fight of competing double-standards. Already I’ve heard that the Hobby Lobby insurance fund invests in the contraceptions it refuses to cover.

  12. Religious freedom is a scary notion because it’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It tricks people into thinking they are protecting the noble humanistic achievements of recognizing free speech and the individual’s freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. However, what they don’t realize is that the goal of protecting those freedoms is so that we can all live happily in a society based on reason. It’s important to stress that reason is the implicit glue that holds those protections as noble. Would religious freedom be invoked to protect someone who kills others because he has faith in his god, Lisa, believing that shes loves him and that he is only doing her will? What if that god was named Yahweh or Allah?
    This is the major point. More specifically, what is being protected in religious freedom is religious faith.
    What is religious faith? It is the abandonment of reason when trying understand purely academic facts about the universe we live in. Claims such as the ability for our personalities to manifest themselves outside our brains, otherwise known as our souls going to an afterlife, or that there exists a place in our universe called heaven, in the same way there exists a planet called Jupiter, or maybe somehow you’re able to bypass having to gather and test evidence as generations of rational people have, and thus you can claim to know that there is an outside to the universe, and that’s where heaven is. Or maybe you believe that there is a being who exists, in the same real way any being or anything “exists” (do not muddle up the word “exist” by confusing the “existence” of thoughts or human concepts with the “existence” of oceans , stars, dark matter, humans, aliens, or any being in reality. The distinction is clear and obvious. Any argument proposing another type of existence is an exercise in using false logic and deliberately intellectual sounding, obscure language, to make it seem as if the argument for its truth is too complicated to fully understand.
    What if someone believes that this supreme being has a personal relationship with them, loves them, and has a plan for them, the only catch being that they cannot use reason to question their faith.
    What a powerful endorsement that would be for anyone to believe a god cares for his or her feelings or success.
    Now what if they believe that it is their god’s will to kill members of a neighboring country, or to teach school children false information about the world?
    What chance do reasonable people have in questioning that person’s belief in god, when faith is the foundation to that person’s beliefs?

    Religious freedom doesn’t protect personal liberty, it protects religious faith. And until enough people understand the danger of faith, it is going to be seen as the harmless sheep it pretends to be.

  13. How far or how bad could this get? We could see a resurgence of the old religious hatreds between Catholics and Protestants. Baptist think that the Pope is the Anti-Christ so they could start denying services to Catholic customers. Some religions think that blacks have been cursed by god. So, why would they want to provided services to them? In the end, the religious business owner could post an employment sign that reads: no Catholics, Jews, blacks, or women need to apply.

    Short of a legal solution, we have got to change minds and not with raw facts. We have got to get them to make an emotional connection with people. Until the person sees their fellow man as a fellow human facts wont mean much. Religions tend to make the outsider less than themselves since they are the ones on God’s side.

  14. As far as I know the ruling had nothing to do with interpretation of the Constitution, but rather the statute put in place by the RFRA. So, what needs to be done is finding employees who are for instance working for Hobby Lobby to file a suit against the RFRA that they are being unduly stressed since the RFRA confers religious sovereignty of someone else’s religion upon them. The case would have to surround whether the free exercise of religion also is also conferred to those who do not wish to participate in another’s religious tradition.
    The perfect candidate would be someone who was refused emergency contraception b/c it wasn’t covered, became pregnant and ultimately either was forced to have an abortion or have the baby.

    EDIT – You might be able to find something even better. Thinking outside the box it doesn’t even have to revolve around hobby lobby, you only need to show the the RFRA is unconstitutional. Unfortunately you need someone to use the RFRA in an extremely stupid manner first such as not provide medication to employees…which really is what this is, but it needs to be way off mainstream thinking.

  15. Just before the Hobby Lobby decision, I was reading a thread on Professor Jerry Coyne’s blog WhyEvolutionIsTrue regarding an odious article in Psychology Today accusing atheists of being fundamentalists. The author of the article, one Loretta Graziano Breuning, purported herself to be an atheist only to rhetorically pummel (or at least feebly attempt to do so) the entire enterprise of non-belief in her uninspired, we’ve all heard these idiotic accusations before, piece. Not surprisingly, Ms. Breuning was taken to task by some very well written fellow members of our cohort in the comments thread for her piece. One particularly inspired rebuke of Breuning pointed out that atheists don’t’ “shout at people from street corners” or go knocking on stranger’s doors on a Saturday morning looking to “spread the good word.” It’s true, there has never been an atheist intifada or inquisition. And I have to ask myself why, not? Now, I’m not suggesting anyone be stretched on a rack or that humanists start taking cues from Hamas, but why aren’t we shouting from street corners? Lot’s of commenters in this forum have suggested that the answer to curbing the phenomenon of ecumenical encroachment lie in the voting booth. However, the political clout of non-believers isn’t enough right now to sway most state elections, let alone effect the nomination of a Justice to SCOTUS. We must lay the cultural ground work first. I say let’s do what religions do, get ‘em while they’re young. We should be working to appeal to young people, even the parents of toddlers, through various media platforms with content that dispels the pernicious stereotype of the arrogant, self centered atheist. Let’s ask young people if they’d like to be part of a movement that includes everyone from socialists to libertarians, that is unconcerned about social status or wealth and represents the best hope of changing our world for the better than anything else going right now. Yes? Well then, welcome aboard. Let’s see if they’d like to be part of a movement of intelligent free-thinkers that will never ask them to compulsively donate 10% of their money, never judge them based on whom or how they love or ask them to condemn others for the same reason. Yes? Well then, welcome aboard. The next step for this movement is to start connecting non-belief with the lives of people whom feel that our movement is obtuse to their everyday existence. All too commonly poverty means lack of choice in American society. The demographics of non-belief are overwhelmingly white and male. So when a single mother of three children sees that a church is the only place in her neighborhood offering affordable child care, she doesn’t have any other real options than to submit her children to indoctrination. We need to speak to that. We have a long, long way to go in America and those of you reading this in the UK would do well to fashion yourselves an establishment clause as soon as possible. (If for no other reason than it would probably make Ann Widdecombe’s head explode.) We won’t make the next step unless we work our collective asses off to make this movement a real cultural force. I know there are those in the atheist community who abhor the idea of atheism as a “movement.” They fear that atheism will morph into just another belief system, rife with group-think and susceptible to confirmation bias, like any other movement. To that I say, NUTS! I think we’re better than that and I know we’re smarter than that. Activism and coalition building are the tools of social change. I hope to see us striding confidently forward towards a brighter future that we will play a key role in shaping with the standard of science and critical thinking borne high. But there are vast tracts of ground to cover before we’re in that position. Feet fail us not.

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