The great Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that important Supreme Court decisions “exercise a kind of hydraulic effect.” Even if the authors of such decisions assert that their rulings will have limited impact, these cases invariably have a profound influence. So it has been with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which is less than six months old.
In Hobby Lobby, a narrow five-to-four majority of the Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 gave the proprietors of a chain of retail craft stores the right to exempt themselves from certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the A.C.A. requires firms with more than fifty employees to provide insurance that includes birth-control coverage, or else pay a fine. There was an exemption already for religious institutions. Hobby Lobby, a closely held corporation, is a secular, for-profit business, but the Court held that because the owners of Hobby Lobby held a sincere religious belief that certain forms of birth control caused abortions, they could deny employer-paid insurance coverage for them…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg…wondered where the guidance was for the lower courts when faced with similar claims from employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)…
The Supreme Court itself has suggested that the implications of Hobby Lobby were broader than Alito originally let on. Just days after the decision, the Court’s majority allowed Wheaton College, which is religiously oriented, to refuse to fill out a form asking for an exemption from the birth-control mandate—while retaining the exemption. There is another case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, which is also pending, where a religious order asserts that the filling out of a form (which, if granted, would exempt them from the law’s requirements) violates their rights.
If just filling out a form can count as a “substantial burden,” it’s hard to imagine any obligation that would not.
RTFA for all the crap arguments rising like a tide of theocracy against the shores of constitutional democracy. The holier-than-thou brigade has never disappeared in this land; but, support given by slippery opportunists like President George the Little and his conservative mates on the Supreme Court have them beating on the doors of law and justice like a bellowing clan of zombies.
I’d love to see a conscientious objector who hasn’t gone through all the drudgery required by Selective Service simply refuse to fill out his registration with the SS – and watch the about face from war-lovers who endorse Republican bench-warmers in black robes.