The Supreme Court continued its war on women with the decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.
The case was about whether the religious owners of Hobby Lobby stores could determine which contraceptive devices they will include in the health insurance they make available to their employees based on their own religious beliefs rather than on the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees access to coverage for all approved FDA contraceptive devices.
Organizations like The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a right-wing group supported the owners of the Hobby Lobby stores. They contend they could use their own religious beliefs and transfer those to the business, a corporation closely held by the family, to determine these decisions.
Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, posited correctly in an op-ed in the Washington Post, that the result of what the owners of Hobby Lobby asked the court to sanction was the ability to, “Selectively deny insurance coverage for contraceptive methods an employer considers sinful effectively making the employer a party to a woman’s medical consultations.”
Those of us who believe in the separation of church and state had hoped this issue had been decided long ago and that it would be evident that Hobby Lobby violated that separation. But clearly that isn’t the case. In its decision, the court held that “closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage.” They went further and held, “The government has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.” In his concurring opinion Justice Kennedy wrote, “The government could pay for the coverage itself, so that women receive it.” What the court said is that it is fine for the corporation to discriminate against women and make them figure out another way to get their health coverage.
This decision, following on others such as the denial of a buffer zone at Planned Parenthood sites, makes it even more urgent for those who believe in both women’s rights and the strict separation of church and state to vote in the 2014 mid-term elections and keep the Senate in Democratic hands. The focus must then turn to ensuring that a Democrat is elected president in 2016. It is clear that as long as the right wing controls the Republican Party, their victories will mean the appointment of justices at all levels who don’t believe women should control their healthcare or in the clear separation of church and state.
When a corporation with 13,000 employees can justify even some healthcare decisions based solely on the owners’ religious beliefs there is a problem. We need to work to stop our nation from continuing down this path of blurring the separation of church and state even further.
On the positive side, the court did hold that its decision “concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.” It also apparently does not provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice such as discrimination against the LGBT community. But this makes it even clearer that this is a decision against women’s rights by five old white men.
What saved this week from being one of total depression for me was being fortunate to have had the opportunity to listen to the final sermon from Pastor Dean Snyder at Foundry United Methodist Church before his retirement. Snyder spoke of God’s love for all people and that we are all equal in his/her eyes. For 12 years, Dean Snyder has been senior pastor at Foundry and with his wife Jane has been a tower of strength standing up for individual rights. Together they have shown a clear understanding of the separation of church and state even when their own denomination disagreed.
He preached that God doesn’t discriminate. Snyder practiced his faith and stood with the homeless and poor; the downtrodden and the marginalized. Both he and Jane have been leaders in the movements to ensure that civil law is applied equally to all. Listening to Snyder has been inspirational even though I am not a Methodist. He always made me, as he did everyone with whom he came in contact, feel at home at Foundry and he restored my faith in religion.
For all those who believe in women’s rights and the sanctity of the separation of church and state, the Hobby Lobby case should be a rallying cry to elect candidates at all levels of government who share those beliefs.