There has been extensive commentary and controversy regarding the United State Supreme Court’s recent decision of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
This decision establishes that privately controlled corporations can exclude birth control and contraceptive coverage in insurance plans that they are legally required to provide to employees. A corporation may opt not to provide such coverage if it claims that doing so would be contrary to its sincerely held religious beliefs.
On its face, the Hobby Lobby decision ignores the constitutional right of privacy held by women that has been consistently upheld by the Supreme Court, despite multiple challenges. Yet in this decision, the court has found that a contrived corporate constitutional right is more sacred than a woman’s established right to privacy, as well as her right to make health-are decisions with her doctor and not her boss.
But the Hobby Lobby decision also has further reaching consequences of grave concern.
Among those concerns is the court’s subjective requirement that claimed religious beliefs be “sincere.” This begs the following questions: Who determines the sincerity of a corporation’s religious beliefs? How is such a determination made? The result will likely lead to a mockery of religion in many instances. Corporations may now claim religion for the sole purpose of evading costly health-care coverage for employees. Such a result is inconsistent with Christian or any other religious principles.
Furthermore, the Hobby Lobby decision is based broadly on “religious” beliefs, not generally accepted Christian beliefs. Thus, where does the impact of this decision meet the water’s edge?
As an example, a vast multitude of religions do not believe in the use of conventional or any form of medicine. Under this decision, may corporations who are believers of such religions deny any and all forms of health care to its employees?
The Hobby Lobby decision does not just affect the provision of health care. As a further example, the Ku Klux Klan has traditionally sought the extinguishment of all races, other than their own, under the guise of Christianity. Such a posture is obviously repugnant to Christian values. However, the members of this hate group are undoubtedly sincere, even fanatical in their beliefs. May they now ignore the Civil Rights Act and its prohibition on discrimination?
It appears the floodgates have already been opened. The White House has previously indicated its intention to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. As such, the very next day after the Hobby Lobby decision was released, fourteen religious leaders sent a letter to the White House seeking a “religious exemption” from the anticipated executive order. Although these religious leaders indicate their agreement that “banning discrimination is a good thing,” they further claim that abiding by the planned executive order “will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.”
The impact of the Supreme Court’s recent decision cannot be overstated. Believers of all religions are entitled to observe their faith. However, in doing so, corporations should not be entitled to deny basic health-care rights to the women that they employ. Nor should they be entitled to evade other laws that are intended to apply equally to all citizens. Yet unfortunately under the Hobby Lobby decision and its reasoning, the door now swings wide open for such corporate misconduct to occur.
Sean Cook is a lawyer in Charleston.