Lisa Bloom explains lucidly in the Washington Post what is so radical about the Hobby Lobby ruling.
The U.S. is the most religious and most conservative first-world nation, and believers have tried to opt out of our laws for centuries. For the most part, courts haven’t allowed it. May Christian Scientists forego lifesaving medical treatment for their children? No. May Native Americans ingest illegal peyote as part of their religious ceremonies? No. May the Amish refuse to pay Social Security taxes that violate their sincere religious beliefs? No.
The simple general rule has always been that you are free to practice Protestantism or Wicca or Zoroastrianism or any belief of your choice, provided your religious practice does not harm others. You may swing your arm just until it reaches my shoulder, as the old legal epigram goes. Nor may you impose your religion on me, thank you very much. And whether you’re Hindu or Muslim or Baha’i, you must follow general U.S. laws, including paying a wide array of taxes and fees, and more recently, buying certain kinds of insurance, like auto and health insurance.
To interrupt for a second – actually in most states, Christian Scientists may forego lifesaving medical treatment for their children, as may any other religious fanatic. I think it’s 30-something states that have religious exemptions.
Pause to look it up.
Damn, it’s 38 states.
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have religious exemptions in their civil codes on child abuse or neglect, largely because of a federal government policy from 1974 to 1983 requiring states to pass such exemptions in order to get federal funding for child protection work. The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Additionally, Tennessee exempts caretakers who withhold medical care from being adjudicated as negligent if they rely instead on non-medical “remedial treatment” that is “legally recognized or legally permitted.”
As Bloom says – we are the most religious and most conservative first-world nation. Back to Bloom’s article.
Probably every American, religious or not, can point to services provided by moneys we are required to pay that we despise on moral or religious grounds. For my part, as an ethical vegan, government subsidies to hideously cruel factory farms tops the list of most vile uses of my tax dollars. Can I opt out? No, just as a religious Jew can’t say no to his tax contribution to the pork industry and a Quaker can’t hold back tax payments for wars. We can lobby to change the laws. But once they’re passed, we must all follow them. We can’t have 300 million different legal exceptions for the 300 million Americans who’d like to pick and choose which laws comport with our personal beliefs.
The Hobby Lobby decision’s first radical move is in its wide departure from these core American principles. For the first time in the Court’s history, it ruled that a law requiring one to merely vicariously enable another to take an action contrary to one’s religious beliefs violates religious freedom.
I know this is not new, but I still just marvel (and cringe) at how farfetched it is, how 17th century in its intrusiveness, how illegitimate, how great a triumph for the evil bishops.
Let’s take a moment to remember what was entirely forgotten in the Hobby Lobby majority opinion: that birth control is vital to women’s health and equality, even our very lives. The United States has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies in the developed world, in part because we have not had universal coverage of birth control as is the case in much of Europe, which — shocker — has far fewer unwanted pregnancies. Unintended pregnancy rates for poor American women are high and have shot up in the last two decades, as the prices for contraception for those without health coverage make it unattainable.
Oh well now there’s another item for that list I drew up a few weeks ago, the list of ways we differ for the worse from other developed countries – a high rate of unplanned pregnancies. Maybe theocrats think that’s a good thing, because it’s a Sign that god’s will can shove aside what any given woman may have wanted.
In wide swaths of America, abortion is so unavailable we may as well be living in the nineteenth century. 87 percent of U.S. counties lack any abortion provider. For many poor American women, an unplanned pregnancy means a surprise baby, full stop.
All medically approved forms of birth control are far safer for women’s health than childbirth, as is abortion, a safe and simple medical procedure when performed by a doctor. Childbirth, in contrast, can be dangerous for poor American women. Most of us are unaware of the shocking fact that a U.S. woman’s chance of dying in childbirth is high and on the rise. We rank 60th in the world in maternal mortality rates, worse than China with its hundreds of millions of rural poor.
That one I did include on the list.
There’s a lot more. I find myself wanting to read all the lawyers these days. Well, all the secular lawyers.