John M. Becker

Here's Why You Should Be Worried About What Went Down at SCOTUS Today

Filed By John M. Becker | March 25, 2014 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Citizens United, Conestoga Wood, contraception, corporate personhood, Hobby Lobby, Lambda Legal, landmark case, religious freedom, religious liberty, Supreme Court

john-scotus-032514-contraception.JPGThis morning, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two landmark cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation v. Sebelius.

Both cases challenge the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires that all employer-sponsored health insurance plans cover contraception as part of basic preventive health care for women.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga both claim that the requirement is unconstitutional, and that employers should have the right to refuse to cover contraception in their insurance plans if the company's owners have a religious objection.

In other words, remember when the Citizens United decision infamously declared that corporations have the same free-speech rights as people? These companies are essentially arguing that corporations have "religious freedom" rights as well, and that they have the right to impose the owners' religious views on their employees. They think that a woman's boss, not a woman and her doctor, should be able to decide whether or not she can access contraception.

If that sounds like an incredibly dangerous argument -- and one with broad implications if it's upheld by the Court, including for the LGBT community -- you're right. Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal and director of Lambda's Law and Policy project, attended today's oral arguments and revealed her thoughts via press release.

Her statement is after the jump.

"As we feared, the divisions among lines of questioning [from the justices] highlight that the implications of these cases likely go far beyond reproductive health and intricacies of the Affordable Care Act. And the limiting principles offered by each side rarely seemed to assuage the questioners.

"For example, although Hobby Lobby's counsel assured that these cases don't risk a flood of religious objections because birth control is specially 'sensitive,' he provided no cogent line that would prevent similar challenges to employee insurance for blood transfusion, vaccination, or HIV medication, or to other workplace protections to which some may object on religious grounds. And when Solicitor General Verrilli stressed that the Supreme Court has never before held that for-profit corporations have religious rights that trump protections Congress has mandated for employees, Chief Justice Roberts countered that there are no cases saying the reverse either.

"Based on these and other exchanges, there now is every reason to fear proliferating challenges to laws preventing firing of unwed mothers, requiring benefits for same-sex spouses, and forbidding sex discrimination generally. And if the Court does rule that bosses can direct how the health insurance money they pay will be used by their workers, then what's to stop them from forbidding employee use of the wages they pay to buy liquor, pork, dance music or coffee. Or a gift for a gay friend's wedding? This is a recipe for a dramatic restructuring of our government's ability to limit religiously motivated conduct that harms others in business settings."

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