Buyer Beware


I knew something was fishy the one (and only) time I walked into a Hobby Lobby. The sign in the window said something like: we close on Sunday so that our employees can rest. Since when does a retailer close on Sundays????

Inside there were other hints- framed pictures of Christian imagery; a book by the owners that showed them in front of a church (or maybe it was a cross) on the cover; lots of Christmas type decorations even though it wasn’t Christmas. They had a great selection of whatever it is we were after that day, but I knew I would never step foot in that store again. This is clearly a company with a point of view that is not my choice to support.

When I saw that Hobby Lobby had taken contraception to the Supreme Court, I wasn’t surprised. The ruling yesterday made me uneasy and scared but I took a little comfort reading this article.

In 2012, Hobby Lobby, operated by David and Barbara Green, contested the so-called “contraception mandate” in the Affordable Care Act. This part of the law initially required organizations of a certain size to cover FDA-approved contraceptives in their insurance plans. The Greens, along with a Mennonite family that owns a company called Conestoga Wood, said that four of the listed contraceptives violated their religious beliefs because they might possibly prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Even if they weren’t taking the drugs themselves, they said, they felt morally culpable for paying for their employees to take them.

The question was whether this was a legitimate claim under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Did the mandate “substantially” burden these companies’ ability to practice their religion, and did the government have an alternative way to accomplish its goal of providing contraceptive access? For that matter, could companies even have religious-freedom rights? Does paying for contraceptives actually count as a substantial burden on someone’s religious beliefs?

In 49 pages authored by Justice Samuel Alito speaking about religious liberty, followed by a 35-page dissent on the basis of a violation of women’s rights from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court said yes to all of the questions.

Good news is that this decision is limited. It doesn’t necessarily prevent women who work at Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, or other religious companies from accessing birth control through their insurance plans. If the government uses the same exemption it has set up for non-profit organizations, employers cannot deny affordable birth-control access to their employees; they just don’t have to pay for it. Maybe it’s not so bad to work at Joanne’s or Michael’s after all?

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