In a recent landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court has decided, by a margin of one vote, to allow companies a religious exemption from laws that might go against the owners’ beliefs, provided that there are other means of adhering to the foundations of those laws. The Hobby Lobby case was aimed at forms of contraception that were supposed to be covered by the company’s insurance under the Affordable Care Act but which the staunchly Christian company found objectionable.
Living in the UK, where the NHS has free sexual health clinics and awareness programmes, alongside such groups as the Family Planning Association, it might be easy for us to forget how valuable free birth control really is. It might also be possible to try and objectively justify the Supreme Court’s decision. After all, the ruling’s “other means” clause implies that alternative forms of contraception must still be provided, especially since the case was only launched against 4 out of a possible 20 forms covered under the ACA.
Unfortunately, the reality of the ruling and its ramifications are very worrying. In their deluded omnipotent glory, the judges decided to put all 20 forms of contraceptives under the exemption clause and not just the 4 in the original court filings. This means that individuals who do not have any scruples using these forms and who might be unable to afford them unless covered by their employment insurance can legally be denied them if their employer happens to be more religiously conservative.
Values created by religious beliefs should be kept firmly in the private sphere.
This also sets a precedent for other crucial rulings to be hampered by over-zealous Republicans and Republican appointees trying to woo over the right-wing voter base. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would eliminate sexuality-based employment discrimination, has already lost steam because of the various religious exemptions added to it. It is one thing to provide religious exemptions for laws that affect religious bodies – such as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in the UK.
However, the Hobby Lobby case is not one of religious protection; it is one of religious strong-arming. It was seen earlier in the ill-fated SB 1062 debate, but this time, the danger has not subsided. Values created by religious beliefs should be kept firmly in the private sphere. For a country with so many high-profile radicals, it should be remembered that the US Constitution acknowledges this by clearly separating Church and State in the First Amendment. As soon as these values are put into law, they allow prejudices to be defended.
Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby has been considered a victory for the religious right and for any politician spouting the old “family values” shtick. The truth is that is a loss for women’s rights. In a terrifying chain of events, it is also not the only loss. The Supreme Court has deemed abortion clinic buffer zones, aimed at protecting people from vitriolic pro-lifers, unconstitutional. This while the fight against abortion reaches new highs. It would seem that, in the eyes of the American judiciary, it is far more important to preserve a specific interpretation of religious rights than it is to protect women’s health.