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Freedom of and from religion

Demonstrators rally during oral arguments in the Sibelius vs Hobby Lobby over for-profit corporations denying contraceptive coverage to it's employees.
Demonstrators rally during oral arguments in the Sibelius vs Hobby Lobby over for-profit corporations denying contraceptive coverage to it's employees.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

" Beware of concentrations of wealth and organized religion " - Thomas Paine

It’s been said that religion divides. The 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing a privately held corporation, Hobby Lobby, ( Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby), to deny women employees contraception coverage in it’s insurance coverage based on the owner’s religious beliefs attests to this.

Thanks to another Supreme Court ruling identifying corporations as persons, along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, we now have what Thomas Paine warned us about.

The RFRA is a Federal Statute aimed at preventing laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion. The bill was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and passed with only three dissenting (sane) votes in the Senate.

The Justices in the majority insist the ruling was narrowly focused on the rights of a certain population, or the “closely held” owners of private corporations. By this reasoning, religious beliefs, which are subjective at best, can trump the common welfare of workers who just happen to work for certain employers who may not adhere to those beliefs. It appears some, but not all religious advocates want an exemption from reality and life in the modern world where religion is steadily receding to a secular society where we honor freedom of and freedom from religion. This modern society values logic, reason and science in leading us to a better life for all classes of people.

The U.S. is showing signs of progress in putting one’s religious beliefs where they belong, away from things that effect the general public, such as our laws and public policy. “A Kaiser Tracking Poll from April of 2014 found that a majority of Americans (55%) believed that for profit businesses should provide free contraception to their employees, even if doing so violates the personal religious beliefs of a company’s owners. Among women support for employer-provided birth control was slightly higher at 61%." - Pew Research

Class and gender are at play in the Hobby Lobby decision when you consider the women employees are in the lower wage scale and the religious exemption speaks to the marginalization of women so common in patriarchal faiths. It’s no coincidence that the three women Justices voted in the minority in the case.

The patchwork system of different rules for public and private companies and the need for religious exemptions makes little sense to Tess Chapeau, a registered nurse. “ The two types of emergency contraceptives, as well as two types of IUD’s aren’t covered. This is problematic for women working in low wage jobs, such as employees at Hobby Lobby, as an IUD typically costs the equivalent of a month’s wages. The Hobby Lobby execs are under the incorrect assumption these forms of contraception cause abortions. However they have no problem whatsoever profiting from their 401 K plans, which have long been investing in abortifacents.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the dissenting Justices on the case, in a 35 page opinion described the Hobby Lobby ruling as "a decision of startling breath “. She warned the five Justices had “ ventured into a minefield “ with the decision allowing the floodgates to open with more faith -based exemptions to come. They came the very next day when the court ordered three appeals courts to consider challenges by other faith-based entities to not cover any contraception services.

To a casual observer, this may look like an attack on women’s health practices while men don’t even get a after thought. Men and women are biologically different, it’s that simple, and no one’s talking about male sterilizations. Here is a woman who is not pleased with the Supreme Court right now; “ Pick on the weakest - I am a firm believer in the saying that we can judge someone by how they treat the least (most needy and the weakest ). This case speaks for itself. To me it’s about the fact that religion can have any say at all about anything in the workplace. It comes down to the decision that corporations are treated like people. A company cannot have a religion, “ closely held “ or not. What happens if a group of Sharia followers buys up a major chain store…..nothing would be covered. How would women be treated in the workplace - would they have to dress in garbage bags so as to not excite the men……and so on and so on. What a horribly broken judicial system America has to allow this to happen."

The majority Justices could be likened to colonial era Puritans handing out scarlet letters to wayward women by enforcing religious doctrine, while the other four have evolved into the 21st century.

In order to have an orderly society with justice and equality for everyone, religion, no matter what the flavor, should be kept out of the equation, and that other power structure, corporations must also be kept in check.

" A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights the biggest and most powerful possess." - A.Phillip Randolph