By Robert A. Vella
True to form, it didn’t take long for the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to contradict its own opinion in last week’s Hobby Lobby decision which supposedly granted the same religious exemption – from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate – to “closely held” for-profit corporations as that granted to non-profit organizations. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said the ruling would not prevent the federal government from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives. From MSN – Justices: Can’t make employers cover contraception (emphasis added):
Alito said the decision is limited to contraceptives. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs,” he said.
He suggested two ways the administration could deal with the birth control issue. The government could simply pay for pregnancy prevention, he said. Or it could provide the same kind of accommodation it has made available to religious-oriented, not-for-profit corporations.
The accommodation Alito referred to is a process allowing non-profit organizations, who object to the use of contraceptives on religious grounds, to submit a short form to the government which transfers their responsibility for proving contraception coverage to insurers or third-party administrators.
Fair enough, right? Wrong! It was revealed yesterday that the Court majority issued an injunction against the Obama Administration which prevents it from enforcing that accommodation under any circumstances. Now, any employer can deny contraception coverage to its employees by asserting a religious objection. From The Huffington Post – Supreme Court Upholds Wheaton College’s Religious Objection To Contraception:
WASHINGTON (RNS) The Supreme Court offered a further sign that it favors letting employers with religious objections avoid the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.
Over the vehement objection of its three female justices, the court late Thursday (July 3) blocked the administration from forcing evangelical Wheaton College to sanction insurance coverage for emergency birth control, even though it would not have had to offer the coverage itself.
In doing so, the court made clear that it’s not done with the religious liberty issue following the court’s June 30 ruling that closely-held, for-profit corporations with objections to certain contraception methods do not have to offer this type of coverage to their employees.
The Court majority’s hypocrisy in this case sparked unprecedented outrage from dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor. From the Daily Kos – Supreme Court splits on gender lines in first post-Hobby Lobby case on contraception:
In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor takes the majority of the Supreme Court to task for contradicting the position it took just a few days ago in the Hobby Lobby decision, when its decision rested on the premise that the exemption that the administration had carved out for religious organizations was an adequate accommodation and that it still achieved the government’s aims. Now, they’ve just undermined that very argument. She writes:
Even assuming that the accommodation somehow burdens Wheaton’s religious exercise, the accommodation is permissible under RFRA because it is the least restrictive means of furthering the Government’s compelling interests in public health and women’s well-being. Indeed, just earlier this week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.[…] the Court described the accommodation as “a system that seeks to respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofit corporations while ensuring that the employees of these entities have precisely the same access to all [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)]-approved contraceptives as employees of companies whose owners have no religious objections to providing such coverage.” […] And the Court concluded that the accommodation “constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty.” […] Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today. After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates RFRA as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, see ante, at 29–30 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting), retreats from that position. That action evinces disregard for even the newest of this Court’s precedents and undermines confidence in this institution.
Sotomayor’s criticism is acutely warranted. The conservative justices of the Roberts’ Court are obviously playing partisan politics by pushing a right-wing ideological agenda instead of performing their declared oaths as prescribed under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution (emphasis added):
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.“
Apparently, those conservative justices conveniently refused to acknowledge their own “religious Test” during confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, and are now employing them to dismantle the Separation of Church and State which this nation was founded on. Furthermore, their unabashed deference to corporate power over the rights of workers and consumers violates another one of their oaths of office which obliges them to “… administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich…”
Further reading and related stories: