Monday, June 30, 2014

Hobby Lobby decision: Majority shifted focus from religious vs. for-profit, to closely-held vs. publicly-held to rationalize today's terrible decision

Below: excerpts from Ginsburg's dissent, set to music today. The full 35-page dissent is here.

In her dissection of today's 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court allowing some huge corporations to deny medical benefits based on religious grounds, NPR's Nina Totenberg noted several points raised by Justice Ginsburg (in a rare spoken dissenting opinion from the bench): the majority opinion compromises our entire notion of who we are as a county, the decision was based on a statute, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the first amendment (because of previous decisions) and that Congress never intended such a broad result when it passed the bill. Ginsberg wondered about me-too ripple effects , which opens up a huge can of worms, such as corporate owners imposing their religious beliefs regarding blood transfusions, immunizations or using medical products that have pork in them, on their employees.
     Alito's majority opinion shifted the focus from whether for-profit (not religious) corporations should enjoy such exemptions to whether or not the companies in question were "closely held," which was not persuasive to Ginsberg at all.
    In her report, Totenberg reminded her listeners that, besides Hobby Lobby, with its 16,000 employees, some of the biggest corporations in America are closely held: Cargill, Dell, Heinz, Dole, Whole Foods, Koch Industries, Ernst & Young, Amway, Toys R Us, Hilton and Bloomberg.
      The decision was also lambasted by a number of gay rights organizations, among them Lambda Legal, whose Senior Counsel and Director, Law and Policy Project, Jennifer C. Pizer, issued the following statement:
     Today’s majority ruling disregards decades of case law that drew a protective line between free religious expression and religious dominance of others. It is a radically dangerous decision that invites more misguided actions contrary to essential protections for employees, customers and the public. It is imperative that the U.S. Congress amend the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to withdraw the blessing the Court mistakenly has given these companies to impose their beliefs on working women.
     Today’s ruling is about the ACA and women’s reproductive health and rights. But, some may mistake this narrow ruling as a wide open door for religious liberty exemptions from other statutes that protect employees and the public. Today’s opinion says doing so would be incorrect. However, recent mistreatment of LGBT people in employment and other commercial settings still makes this extremely troubling. A business owner’s religious objection to a worker’s same-sex spouse or a customer’s LGBT identity is not acceptable grounds for discrimination. It is more important than ever that states and Congress enact strong, clear nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

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