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Thursday, October 20, 2016

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A challenge to part of President Barack Obama’s health care law that hits the Supreme Court on Tuesday could lead to one of the most significant religious freedom rulings in the high court’s history.

Four years ago, in their controversial Citizens United decision, the justices ruled that corporations had full free-speech rights in election campaigns. Now, they’re being asked to decide whether for-profit companies are entitled to religious liberties.

At issue in Tuesday’s oral argument before the court is a regulation under the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide workers a health plan that covers the full range of contraceptives, including morning-after pills and intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

The evangelical Christian family that controls Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a chain of more than 500 arts and crafts outlets with 13,000 workers, says the requirement violates its religious beliefs.

Some contraceptives can “end human life after conception,” the Green family says. Forcing the owners to pay for such devices would make them “complicit in abortion,” their lawyers say.

A ruling in their favor could have an effect on tens of thousands of women whose employers share the Greens’ objections to some or all contraceptives.

But the case could also sweep far beyond just this one provision of Obamacare. The justices have been wary of accepting claims that religious beliefs can exempt people — or companies — from following laws that apply to everyone. The court’s previous religious freedom cases usually involved narrowly focused claims from religious minorities, such as the Amish or Seventh-day Adventists.

But the current court, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., has shown a greater interest in religious freedom claims. And because the objections to the contraceptive mandate come from Catholic bishops and evangelical Christians, not small or obscure sects, the potential effect has been magnified.

The Obama administration argues that if the justices allow Hobby Lobby to refuse to pay for contraceptives because of its owners’ religious beliefs, the way would open for religious objections to a broad array of laws.Companies potentially could shape the benefits they offer, and perhaps even their hiring, based on their religious convictions.

Gay rights advocates worry such a ruling could give businesses a right to deny services to customers or clients.

The White House already has made concessions on the contraceptive rule to accommodate religious beliefs. It exempted churches and religious bodies entirely and said nonprofit groups with religious affiliations, such as Catholic hospitals or colleges, need not pay for contraceptives directly. The duty falls to their insurance providers.

But Obama and his advisers drew a line at for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby.

There is not “a single case in this nation’s history in which a commercial enterprise” has won a right based on religious beliefs to be exempt from regulations that govern for-profit corporations, government lawyers have said in a brief for the court.

The legal battle has played out across the country. In addition to Hobby Lobby, about 50 other for-profit companies large and small have sued to gain a religious exemption from the contraceptive rule.

  • Sand_Cat

    When you run a business, the rules are (and should be) different.
    Businesses don’t have religions, and don’t have religious freedom. To claim otherwise is an obscenity and an exercise in hypocrisy. The people pushing this have demonstrated some of the most flexible “consciences” around when it comes to their personal convenience and profit, but somehow that deeply religious conscience cuts in and becomes irresistible when the opportunity to condemn or control other people presents itself.

  • Charlotte Sines

    I find it very interesting that Hobby Lobby paid for birth control, which included Plan B, for their employees with no squabbling before the ACA was signed into law and they are now screaming about the mandate. I realize the insurance they provided didn’t cover IUD’s but it did cover the morning after pill. So it makes you think that maybe it is not the birth control they are complaining about but the fact that our President Obama sign this into law.

    • latebloomingrandma

      I’ll bet their plan also covered or still covers vasectomies. I know several men who have had vasectomies and no one paid for it out of pocket if they had insurance.

      • edwardw69

        I’ll bet they have no objection to providing Viagra to men who are not married.

    • idamag

      Of course. Their motive is a bit clear, isn’t it?

  • Dominick Vila

    The CEO of Hobby Lobby is entitled to his beliefs, and we are entitled to stop shopping at Hobby Lobby. Infringing on the freedom of Americans who wish to have children when they are ready and financially able to support them should be ruled unconstitutional. Nobody has the right to impose their will on the majority of the population because of their interpretation of ancient opinions, the same way nobody should try to convince us that the Earth is flat.
    The most fascinating part of this argument is that the same people who oppose contraceptives, are the same people who oppose abortion. I guess they have not yet grasped the idea that contraceptives reduce the incidence of abortion.
    Hopefully the Supreme Court will not be intimidated by the powerful religious organizations that are against making contraceptives available to those who cannot afford to buy them. Once again, this is an example of how far to the right some people have moved when it comes to social responsibility.

    • whodatbob

      Dominick, As usual your post is well thought out and on point! I think your logic in paragraph two is off. If one is truly pro life, which I am not, and believe all human eggs are potentially human life (the acorn theory) than how could you not be opposed to both abortion and contraception.

      • SteveCO

        Libs are generally pro-HUMAN life. Cons and Teas are pro-FETAL life, yet anti-human beings. If you ain’t white rich and racist, you can’t be a Tea.

        • whodatbob

          Dominick is a learned person who was unable to understand how the same people who oppose contraceptives, are the same people who oppose abortion. My post was an attempt to address that issue.

          Without defining the difference between human life and fetal life your argument has no meaning. At what point in the development of a fertilized egg does it become a human life. Some believe it is at conception, others at delivery, others at various points between.

          Neither side is PRO- LIFE. By your statement Libs are willing to destroy fetal life, not a pro-life stance, if it is inconvenient to being a human into the world. The Cons are willing to let humans in need suffer and perhaps die, not a pro-life stance, by not funding the support needed.

      • RobertCHastings

        Dominick’s point is right on target. Preventing fertilization of the egg by the use of contraception prevents the need for abortion due to unwanted or unintended pregnancies. I think it is totally disingenuous for the right to assume, as they seem to do, that sexual intimacy is SOLELY for the purpose of procreation and thus confuse the issue of an unintended pregnancy with the issue of abortion. Many unintended pregnancies DO NOT end in abortion, and many unprotected sex acts do NOT result in pregnancy (or even in the fertilization of an egg). ALL fertilized eggs do not result in viable pregnancies, either – many result in miscarriages or simply failure to implant on the uterine wall.

    • idamag

      Yes, everyone, we do have the power of choosing not to shop there.

  • RobertCHastings

    This is one of those cases that should have never even made it to the Supreme Court. However, now that it IS on their agenda, we can assume two things – Scalia will totally ignore ANY First Amendment implications, and Thomas will have nothing to say.

    • JSquercia

      I have often advocated we save money by getting rid of silent Clarence and giving Scalia two votes since Thomas votes in lockstep with Scalia . We could save one salary .
      I have also said Scalia decides the case based on the outcome he wants and then finds a “reason” to justify it .This happened with his
      decision in the Bush vs. Gore case in which he completely changed his logic for awarding Bush the Presidency .The obscenity is he used the equal protection clause to deny Gore the Presidency .

      • RobertCHastings

        He does follow a pattern. The most recent Supreme Court decision regarding gun rights overturned over a hundred years of precedent, based upon something so obscure, none of the other Justices questioned it.

        • JSquercia

          It is so ironic that conservatives say they want strict constructionist which should indicate that they will adhere to precedents but have no problem rejecting
          them to further their own agenda

          • RobertCHastings

            Which is exactly what the SCOTUS did in Bush v Gore. The Rehnquist Court issued a ruling, using the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment, attaching the caution that this particular ruling should NOT be used a precedent in ANY other similar cases that would follow (and several did during that election cycle).

    • SteveCO

      And Alito will vote for his corporate masters. He knows no other way to vote.

  • Annemb

    Here we go again … the right wing trying to push it’s ideology and agenda on the rest of America in their effort to destroy our country. They’ll go to any extreme to get their agenda through.

    Let’s hope and pray that SCOTUS doesn’t continue its blindness to legal rights in this case women’s and support the TGOP’s political agenda. If SCOTUS gives Hobby Lobby this win, it will open the floodgates in which we will all drown.

  • charleo1

    Since corporations have been elevated to the stature of people, with
    Constitutionally protected Rights. How then can they, under the equal
    protection clause, be denied any such Rights as is guaranteed to all? No slippery slope here. As people, corporations are just like you or me. The
    fact that some of them are more than two centuries old, and may live to
    be hundreds more. Or that corporations cannot be incarcerated, only
    fined. And are usually not required to admit any wrong doing as a legal matter. Is no excuse to deny them their inalienable Rights. One could argue they could pray for forgiveness, and practice their religion in the same way they speak, and express their political opinions, with their money. Which they would donate to their creator, or creators, just as you or I might put in an extra $10. in the collection plate on Sunday morning, after a Saturday night of debauchery. And if all that sinning were to take a toll on their health. Couldn’t we look at administering, or injecting money into their weakened bodies, the same way we look at cancer patients receiving their life giving care? Aren’t they as people, also entitled to treatment? Even if they need turn to the government as a last resort, or a first resort? Healthcare is a Right! As is marriage. As we strive for the Rights of the same sex couple to love whom they choose, and formalize that affection with a legal contract. What Right does the law have to deny corporations the same liberty? Of course corporations don’t marry in the conventional way. But they do merge with each other, and consummate, and conglomerate. I ask you, shouldn’t they be endowed with as much Right to conglomerate as you, or I?

  • latebloomingrandma

    I think it’s time the Court start looking at their rulings with an eye on unintended consequences. They sure didn’t do that with Citizens’ United. If Hobby Lobby wins its case, then corporations can now become little theocracies. So—what if I work for said company and am of a slightly different religion—-can I now demand that I will not work on Sundays? I want all the days of the Holy Week off and if I have to work want excused to go to services, with pay of course. If it’s good for them to hold the employees hostage to their beliefs, then I want mine honored also. If I work for a business owned by a Jehovah’s Witness, will my health ins. policy deny me the right to have blood transfusions paid for? Even if I have heart surgery?
    This Court better decide how “religious” people entering into commerce are supposed to adhere to the secular laws of a free, pluralistic country. Otherwise it’s chaos. Self-righteousness is not one of the Bill of Rights.
    After all, the Good Man himself said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. I think He would rather have bosses be honest in their businesses to both employee and customers than act like a Pharisee.

    • Sand_Cat

      The court should just start looking at their rulings, period. They should be ashamed, even if they don’t buy this BS argument from “corporate citizens.”

    • idamag

      Yes, I always took those words to mean that even Jesus advocated a separation of church and state.

  • sallysue

    Oh, the hypocrisy: A overwhelming %age of the crap sold at Hobby Lobby comes from China: a nation where its “one child” policy has resulted in millions of abortions.

    • Susan Dean

      Brilliant point!

  • elw

    When the Supreme Court made their Citizens United decision they opened a can of worms and now they are having to deal with it. The Truth is that any reference to a “person” in the Constitutions is and was meant to mean an individual person, not a business. Taken in context of history, for those of us who read, immigration from Europe, the Boston tea party, and the War for Independence was all about bringing freedom and relief from oppression to the individual from those who held the power and money in their hands at that time. When our forefathers began their revolution it was the kings and noble of England, today it is the large, international Corporations and the extreme rich who hold that power. The unintentional results of citizen united has already caused great damage by allowing just a few very Rich individuals to decide who gets to run for office through their large donations, the wrong decision in this case could very well undermine the Constitution and its original intent to point of making it no more than meaningless words on an old piece of parchment. Your boss could literally become your king who has the right to control your personal life.

    • RobertCHastings

      By allowing the “person” of a corporation to spend unlimited amounts and limiting individuals as to how much we can spend on one candidate does not abide by the “equal protection” portion so readily used in the Bush v Gore decision. If I had the money, I would willingly spend millions on each of several individuals. Two things prevent me from doing so – the fact that I DON’T have the money, and the SCOTUS Citizens United decision.

      • elw

        Yes Citizen United sucks on many levels.

  • 14hei

    This is a prime example of the far right fighting against the ACA. An they are using the Citizens United decision to support their claim. This is why national health care must be voted into law. That way we all pay into the health care system, and can use or not use any part of it. With the knowledge that if we refuse care we live with the result. Or die because of it. The wage and price controls that would be put in place, would go a long way in curbing the runaway inflation in our economy. And the big plus would be the insurance overhead that would be reduced from the cost of health care.

    Medicare for all today!

    • JSquercia

      It is such a simple solution .Without Private for profit insurance there is an immediate cost savings .No need for dividends and gigantic CEO pay also need to spend on Advertising
      Funny how the West Wing came up with the SAME solution when Smits ran against Alda

      • RobertCHastings

        During the “good old days” of our parents era, doctors made house calls, people paid for an office visit with pocket money, operations were affordable, our mothers stayed in the hospital for one to two weeks after giving birth, recuperation after major surgery was, well, affordable. When medical care became for-profit, concern for individuals took a distant second place to the bottom line.

    • RobertCHastings

      The estimate has been put forward on this site that by eliminating private insurers and going with the single-payer system (which conservatives inaccurately characterize as socialism) the US consuming public would save about $350B per year, by far enough to pay for a single-payer system like that of some of our advanced and industrialized allies. Before he became president, Obama revealed that his motivation behind his support of the ACA (which was his major campaign promise) was the cost to the public of the system as it operated in 2008. At that time, at least 25,000 Americans died every year from treatable issues simply because the DID NOT have insurance. Another several hundred thousand had to deal with the effects of bankruptcy because of inadequate insurance. Even with the ACA, not that much is going to change. While I am retired and rely on Medicare, my daughter purchases here own – expensive – policy and does not qualify for assistance because she could get on her husband’s policy through his work, for almost double what she is paying now.

      • idamag

        Every one of those people, in Congress, have a single payer insurance that follows them to the grave. We pay for their perks.

        • RobertCHastings

          Members of Congress are not the only ones with such a system. Retired rail workers do, too. The largest insurance system in the country is, basically, a single-payer (Medicaid). While the US spends approximately 16 – 17% of our GDP on medical costs, our industrialized allies, most with single-payer medical care, spend from 6 – 12 % of their GDP on medical care, with statistically better outcomes (the US is NOT even near the top in life expectancy). Congress is aware of these facts, but certain factions refuse to take them to their logical conclusion.

          • idamag

            You would think people would be smart enough to look around and see what is working. Norway has the highest taxes of the industrialized countries. They also have the highest standard of living. There is 0 poverty. They have strong safeguards in place to prevent $$$$ from usurping their government.Candidates cannot take public monies. They can only campaign for two months. If we have a disaster that closes some of our roads and I am late for work, but my neighbor made it to work with time to spare, I am going to take his route tomorrow.

          • RobertCHastings

            Fortunately, the vast majority of people in the US are smart enough to make the right decisions, given appropriate information. However, unfortunately, they are not being provided the best information available by our media. We are victims of a media that is controlled, as was the media in 1930s Germany, by powerful, non-governmental forces.

    • idamag

      You can actually see it. Some don’t.

  • howa4x

    Maybe all the women in protest shouldn’t shop there any more. .That is the way to settle the issue. If the court grants this exception they will allow church and state to mix and strict constructionists like Scalia should be the 1st to bring that up. Corporations my have a perverted law granting them free political speech but if Hobby Lobby prevails then we know that religious conservative run the high court

    • idamag

      Hobby people, You can get a better deal, online with Blick Art Supply. BTW, howa4x, men have hobbies, too. I know some fly tiers, radio controlled airplane enthusiasts and wood carvers.

    • SteveCO

      We would then know that a corporate theocracy is being created, and would do whatever is necessary to stop it in its tracks.

  • ps0rjl

    let’s just cut to the chase. Under the guise of religious freedom the owners of Hobby Lobby just don’t like President Obama and this is a way to get at him. By allowing corporations to exempt themselves because of religious freedom, we are starting on a slippery slope. Individuals have religious freedom, not corporations. Secondly if a corporation is a person for accounting purposes, I can agree to that but with the expansion of their rights under Citizens United why aren’t the corporations required to serve on jury duty and also required to register with the Selective Service.

  • charles king

    What? the hell is going on in the United States of America. Where is our Democracy( You know, For, By, and Of the People,shall never leave this earth ) Why? all this hobby looby B**L-S*** this is what MONIES has done to our government. These 1%ers has taken over the People’s Democracy and the People better make their voices heard at the polls to get these (Capitalistic Pigs, Greedy Plutocracts (with MONIES) Republicans, Democracts Representives WHO? does Nothing in sessions and any other NO DOERS) get rid of these NO DOERS they are NOT needed in our land of Democracy. The VOTE and (Critical Thinking) are still Supreme. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

  • idamag

    As one justice put it, we can open a can of worms if we pas this law. Those religions who do not believe in doctors can refuse all care. Those who do not believe in blood transfusions can refuse to pay for blood transfusions. Those religions who do not believe in vaccinations, can refuse to pay for all vaccinations. This list can go on and on. One thing that makes people resent religions is when that religion forces its beliefs on everybody.

  • SteveCO

    This has the potential to wreck this whole country, and all because the war criminal Dubya idiots packed the court with either complete morons, or intelligent corporate fascists, like Alito, anti-civil rights corporate robot.

  • docb

    This is not about abortion but about the ACA that the green guy is shielded from liability by his Incorporation but wants to play faux christian BS with the law! Call the roberts conservatives activists out to stop the influx of fake religion into womens’ reproductive and healthcare rights! Privately held corporates are not people…unless they want to have the corporate veil PIERCED and legal liability thrust on them!

    1.202.479.3000 or 1.202.479.3211…