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Cynicism at the Supreme Court degrades democracy

July 2, 2014

Limiting Rights: Imposing Religion on Workers” by the Editorial Board; The New York Times says it clearly like this. Some excerpts:

The Supreme Court’s deeply dismaying decision on Monday in the Hobby Lobby case swept aside accepted principles of corporate law and religious liberty to grant owners of closely held, for-profit companies an unprecedented right to impose their religious views on employees.

It was the first time the court has allowed commercial business owners to deny employees a federal benefit to which they are entitled by law based on the owners’ religious beliefs, and it was a radical departure from the court’s history of resisting claims for religious exemptions from neutral laws of general applicability when the exemptions would hurt other people.


As a threshold matter, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., read the act’s religious protections to apply to “the humans who own and control” closely held companies, an interpretation contradicted by the statute’s history, context, and wording. He then found that the contraceptive coverage rules put a “substantial burden” on the religious owners, who objected to some of the items on the F.D.A.’s list based on the incorrect claim they induce abortions.

It’s hard to see that burden. Nothing in the contraceptive coverage rule prevented the companies’ owners from worshiping as they choose or advocating against coverage and use of the contraceptives they don’t like.


Mr. Alito’s ruling and a concurrence by Justice Anthony Kennedy portray the decision as a narrow one without broader application, like denying vaccine coverage or job discrimination. But that is not reassuring coming from justices who missed the point that denying women access to full health benefits is discrimination.

Here is an excerpt from Justice Alito’s opinion of the Court (my emphasis):

[W]e must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions … If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.

I believe it is worth reading Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in full; Like the NYT editorial, it is clearly and eloquently written and just destroys Mr. Alito’s opinion, point by point. That being said, the above excerpt right from the start of Alito’s opinion shows an extraordinary effrontery in the exercise of raw power in the majority, dispensing with a substantial standard of reason. Are we to believe that this man is sincere in stating that a believer is “substantially burdened” by the actions of others, even when those actions do nothing more than represent some other behavior than the moral dictates of the believer’s religion? If we don’t behave according to the moral code of the belief system supported by Alito et al, then we are imposing a “substantial burden” and should be actively opposed, discriminated against, violated? I think Alito is a very cunning fellow and knows exactly what he is saying, and we are supposed to just live with the burden he and his majority have imposed. Meanwhile cynical court opinions degrade democracy.

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