We’ve all heard (and read) lots of angry denouncements of the Supreme Court’s recent “Hobby Lobby” decision. I agree with many of them, especially George Takei’s eloquent statement; but, I’d rather not delve into that right now. Instead, let’s begin by going in a different direction and ask “What is the decision, really?”
To be specific, the Supreme Court deems that “closely held corporations [shall not be forced to] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. … regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.”
The court’s decision is also very carefully written to limit its scope and effect, even though efforts are already underway to extend the impact of this decision into new territory. The justices explicitly state that they did not deem it necessary to address or consider the First Amendment (“Freedom of Religion”) claims of the plaintiffs, since the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) is applicable to this case, and in the court’s opinion, the defense’s case clearly fails the tests imposed by the RFRA, as passed by Congress under President Clinton in 1993.
The justices go on to state: We do not hold … that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” … Nor do we hold … that such corporations have free rein to take steps that impose “disadvantages . . . on others” or that require “the general public [to] pick up the tab.” … And we certainly do not hold or suggest that “RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on . . . thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby.” … The effect of the HHS-created accommodation on the women employed by Hobby Lobby and the other companies involved in these cases would be precisely zero. Under that accommodation, these women would still be entitled to all FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing.
So, at first blush this all seems fairly reasonable, and it was such reasoning that helped lead to the end of the so called “Blue Laws” in many states that required businesses to be closed on Sundays. At that time – a generation or two ago – it was determined that such laws proved an unfair burden for – for instance– Jewish small business owners, who were already closing their shops on Saturdays due to their sincerely held religious beliefs.