“This case is an ominous sign,” Justice Samuel Alito begins one of the final opinions released on this last day of the Supreme Court term. He then proceeds to complain for 15 pages that pharmacy owners do not have enough control over whether women can fill their birth control prescriptions. Along the way, he manages to imply that anyone who does not believe in a god or gods is inherently immoral.
The political issue underlying Stormans v. Wiesman is familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the Supreme Court’s involvement in the birthcontrolwars. The owners of a pharmacy in Olympia, Washington object to certain forms of contraception on religious grounds, but a state regulation requires pharmacies to “deliver lawfully prescribed drugs or devices to patients.”
So people with religious objections to birth control want an exemption from the law. We’ve heard this story before.
We certainly have. This is one of the more devious RWC moves in their insistence on ruling every part of any person’s life. Contraception? Oh, no, no, can’t have that. It’s sinful. If you sinners are going to insist on this work of the devil, well, you’ll have to pay through the nose and jump through one hundred red tape hoops, and you might have to get your evil fix outside the state you live in, no big deal, right?
Samuel Alito is now weighing in on this issue, and he skews straight into the infamous I am using the Science of Logic territory. He ends up deciding that laws which are in place to protect both consumers and pharmacists are secular, therefore, it’s only right to hold up religious bias.
Alito attempts to get around Smith through a kind of bait and switch. “A law that discriminates against religiously motivated conduct is not ‘neutral,’” Alito writes, and he tries to paint this law as one that singles out religious conduct — and religious conduct alone — for inferior treatment. “The [Washington State Board of Pharmacy] has specifically targeted religious objections,” Alito claims. “Upon issuing the regulations, the Board sent a guidance document to pharmacies warning that ‘[t]he rule does not allow a pharmacy to refer a patient to another pharmacy to avoid filling the prescription due to moral or ethical objections.’”
Did you catch what Alito did there? First, he complains that the state “specifically targeted religious objections.” Then he supports this claim by noting the Board’s warning that “the rule does not allow a pharmacy to refer a patient to another pharmacy to avoid filling the prescription due to moral or ethical objections.” But “moral and ethical” objections are an entirely different concept than “religious” objections. The implication of Alito’s opinion is that the only basis for a moral or ethical viewpoint is religious faith. But that is an offensive suggestion that redefines the words “moral” and “ethical” in an idiosyncratic way.
Beyond this attempt to conflate religion with morality, Alito also complains that the state rule contains various secular exemptions without also including a special exemption for religious objectors. The rule, for example, permits pharmacists to turn away prescriptions “containing an obvious or known error,” or refuse to fill “potentially fraudulent prescriptions.” A pharmacy may also require customers to pay for their prescriptions before they are delivered, and they may turn away a customer if they don’t accept that customer’s insurance.
Because of these and similar exemptions, Alito claims that the state must also provide an exception for religious objectors or else it is unconstitutionally singling out religion for inferior treatment. “Allowing secular but not religious refusals is flatly inconsistent with” a 1993 Supreme Court decision, Alito claims. “It ‘devalues religious reasons’ for declining to dispense medications ‘by judging them to be of lesser import than nonreligious reasons,’ thereby ‘singl[ing] out’ religious practice ‘for discriminatory treatment.’”
In essence, Alito claims that if a state wants to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill erroneous or fraudulent prescriptions, they must also give special rights to religious objectors. It’s an extraordinary kind of extortion. Give religious objectors what they want, or else you are required to have laws that could endanger your citizens — or, at the very least, laws that could make it very difficult for pharmacies to operate their business.
An extraordinary extortion is a kind way to describe this mess. I’m getting the distinct impression that religio-conservative judges are out to cause as much damage and havoc as they possibly can now, before the election takes place. Think Progress has the full story.