Never mind the adage about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. The U.S. Supreme Court defers to those who invoke religious belief, even if their personhood is invested in a for-profit corporation.
In another 5-4 decision that divided the court’s conservatives and liberals, justices took a radical step Monday that disturbs the balance between an individual’s right to the free exercise of religion and the rights of other Americans.
Yet in his opinion for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito downplayed the significance of what the court was recklessly doing. He claimed that “our holding is very specific. We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, 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.’”
Americans should hope this is true, but there is reason for skepticism. At every turn, Justice Alito and his confederates gave the benefit of any doubt to those who challenged requirements of the Affordable Care Act for some types of contraception coverage.
If this is an indication of the future, the high court’s ruling in the so-called Hobby Lobby case could loom as large as the notorious Citizens United decision in its capacity for mischief. In both cases, the question of whether a corporation can be considered a person loomed large.
Executives of Hobby Lobby, a closely held corporation, successfully argued that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act gave them a pass on providing contraception as part of their employees’ health insurance plans.
It didn’t matter that the company was set up as a for-profit corporation. It was a person under the law and capable of the free exercise of religion, Justice Alito said in his opinion.
Not so, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the author of the principal dissent. She called the majority opinion one of “startling breadth.”
Putting her finger on the collateral damage, she decried the impact on thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and a co-plaintiff in the case. And that may be just for starters.
This is a troubling decision. It is as if the Supreme Court were hell-bent on defending religion, never mind the cost to those who don’t share the boss’s beliefs.