The Supreme Court today ruled in a widely watched case that retail chain Hobby Lobby could not be forced by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to provide certain types of birth control over a religious objection of the family owning the company. This case was correctly decided and a narrow ruling with little that should be of controversial, except to the extreme partisans. In the midst of all the hyperbole and histrionics it’s important to sort out some things this case did not do before getting into what exactly the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, includes.
This decision did not rule that all employers could scrap birth control coverage for their employees, nor does it grant religious protection to discriminatory behavior; to cite some of the misinformation floating around the blogosphere. Alito’s decision is a narrow ruling that only applies to closely held corporations and not publicly traced ones. Essentially this decision states if I am a corporation for tax and liability purposes I don’t lose my civil rights. All else aside, that is as it should be. Justice Ginsburg in her dissent (and many others) seem to be employing the logical fallacy of Reductio Ad Absurdum by warning this will open the door to a host of civil rights abuses on “religious” grounds (Kind of like a Christian saying “If evolution is true, why don’t I see fish turning into monkeys?”)
Again, there is little that is actually controversial here. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993 and requires the government to accomplish certain objectives in the manner that is least restrictive to religious freedom. The administration was arguing that this mandate met that test. Alito wrote in his opinion that this was not the case, and offered other ways to achieve the goal that would be less restrictive to religious freedom, including just making birth control part of the general social welfare benefits. (I am paraphrasing for brevity)
“Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them. “
Some argued that Hobby Lobby is pushing their religious views on others, but this also fails the logic test. In this case Hobby Lobby is not pushing their religion or infringing anyone. They are the ones being infringed upon by the mandate which forces them to violate their long established and widely shared religious belief, or pay a massive fine that the Court found would constitute an undue burden. Finally, it should be remembered that the birth control mandate is not part of the text of Obamacare. It was an interpretation of HHS. HHS has also granted numerous exemptions to Obamacare for seemingly arbitrary reasons and implemented the law unevenly by their own admission. The administration lost this on the face and they deserved to do so.