If you’ve read the news over the last week or so, chances are you’ve heard about the Hobby Lobby case. Without getting into too much detail, the case involved a large and largely family owned business that didn’t want to pay for certain kinds of birth control for their employees like the “morning after” pill and three others as Obamacare mandates. The company argued it was against their deeply held religious beliefs to do so and that it shouldn’t have to contribute money to something that violates the company’s religious beliefs.
Ignoring the continued idiocy of this Court that’s unable to tell the difference between a corporation and a person (here’s one, people go to jail when they fuck up), the Court sided with Hobby Lobby and has allowed them to drop the objected to forms of birth control from their employee’s healthcare. The Court said it did this to protect the company’s “religious freedoms” and, I would argue, to continue the conservative effort to deny women say over their reproductive organs. This case would have turned out totally different if the company had tried to not pay for Viagra or vasectomies for men, I assure you. However, I would love to see the reaction if the three women on the Court voted in favor of such a ruling. ( I mean, seriously, could you imagine?)
Skipping all the potential legal implications surrounding this ruling, I’ll just say I don’t think this will be a widely applied precedent or a particularly slippery slope. The conservatives on the Court have once again bent over backwards to achieve a narrow result that makes no sense and has no legal precedence. They just did it because they like Christians and it was politically expedient for conservatives. (Does anyone really think a Muslim company could get this Court to allow it to impose any of it’s beliefs on its employees?) Still, the real issue of all of this to me is what does freedom of religion mean? What does it require, and what does it look like in practice?
Over the last few months I’ve been traveling a lot and have been to some places where I’ve experienced whole new levels of diversity that I had never really thought about before. In places like Malaysia, India and Nepal, very different religions, all of which would love to have society bend to their religious beliefs, exist in large numbers and coexist with a fair degree of success.
As I write this now, I’m in a Muslim portion of India listening to Muslims being called to prayer. However, everyone here respects the Hindu belief that cows are sacred and do not bother them in the streets or eat their meat, and vegetarian restaurants are plentiful for Buddhists. Similarly, out of deference to the large Islamic population here, people don’t eat pork and alcohol isn’t sold. At first glance, this might sound like a perfect display of religious freedom and tolerance: Everyone’s religions are being treated and shown respect. Everyone is getting to practice their religion freely and everyone, most days, gets a long pretty well despite having such very different belief systems. Freedom of religion is working perfectly, except that it’s not.
This form of religious freedom is a complete fail because it does not allow for freedom from religion. If you’re going to say, as a country or as a society, we are going to allow everyone to practice religion as they see fit then that MUST include people who choose not to practice it all. That the end result of the freedom of religion in many parts of India is that most types of meat can’t be found perfectly highlights what freedom of religion without freedom from religion looks like. All the overlapping legally and socially enforced restrictions on meat leads to people essentially not being able to have any despite the fact that most faiths only have a moderate restriction on it. India also shows why government has no business upholding anyone’s religious beliefs beyond the point of saying they are allowed to have them. If I’m Hindu, then yes, I shouldn’t eat beef, but that’s me and that’s according to my beliefs. The second that belief starts getting forced on someone who is not Hindu, a line has been crossed and that would-be beef eater, be them of another faith or none at all, is now having their freedom trampled.
This, to me, is in no way different than what the Court just did in Hobby Lobby. If the owners of the company don’t want to use birth control, by all means, they shouldn’t have to. That is their right. But to allow them to impose their religious beliefs on their employees is to deny those people their freedom of and from religion. I can accept other people’s religions and be respectful and tolerant of them. If a company wants to be closed on Sundays, while that choice might impact me as an employee or a customer, it’s also OK because that action is directly related to them being able to practicing their religion by not working on that day, and the sincerity of that belief is also proven by the lost revenue.
However, that was not the case presented in Hobby Lobby. Not only did the company have a finical incentive in claiming it should get a religious exemption, which will be more than enough reason for others to follow in their footsteps, the law they wanted to be exempted from did not impact their ability as individuals to practice their religion at all. However, the company’s owners say they shouldn’t have to pay for something they do not believe in. Well, here’s a nice life lesson for all these companies out there that are now more like people than ever: In America, people don’t get to pick and choose how all their money is spent. I’ve given tax dollars to things like wars and policies that I’m morally opposed to, and so has everyone else. Welcome to personhood in America. Furthermore, this six-degrees-of-separation argument conservatives keep making when it comes to money and anything birth control related is ridiculous. It would be like if a Jewish company insisting it shouldn’t have to contribute to government programs that feed the poor because the meals aren’t kosher. I mean, what’s next? Are companies going to claim a right to forbid their employees from being able to buy contraception with their wages since that too would be the company’s money being used to buy something it doesn’t agree with?
But again, so much of this comes back to the idea that companies are people and have rights including the right to practice religion. And seriously, do the conservatives on the Court really not hear how dumb all this sounds!? However, now that companies, thanks to this Court, have found religion, not only do they have the freedom to practice religion, they now have the right to overcome their employee’s rights to practice theirs or to be free from religion because the companies control the purse strings. That this Court views the spending of money as being the same as a religious act is no surprise. Money is the conservatives’ religion. That’s why this Court is willing to bestow upon the holders of money a Pope-like status to dictate religious rules to their flock…I mean employees. That said, that this court doesn’t understand that freedom of religion requires that no one is unnecessarily subjugated to someone’s eles’s religious beliefs is extremely worrisome but, sadly, not surprising.
SideBar: I can’t wait to be free from religion again so I can get my hands on a bacon cheeseburger and offend at least four religions at once.