Hobby Lobby ruling a blow for individual rights

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The nation’s highest court made waves yesterday by ruling that the religious rights of male company owners outweigh the reproductive rights of the women who work for them.

Yes, I’m perhaps being a bit sensational on this issue, but the statement isn’t far from the facts.

In a 5-4 opinion, with Justice Alito writing the majority opinion and Justice Ginsburg writing the dissent, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby is not required, based on religious exemptions, to provide certain types of birth control to its female employees. The ruling essentially grants religious freedom to corporations.

A lot could be said about the case, but let me provide our view by walking you through the court’s majority opinion and then responding with the court’s minority opinion.

In the majority, Justice Alito argued that the point of extending personhood to corporations, and the rights attendant with being an individual person, is to protect persons, not corporations. Alito uses the Fourth Amendment, which pertains to privacy, as an analogy for this argument.

According to Alito, “extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company.” (Which, incidentally, begs the question: Is the corporation the new basic unit of society? So much for individuals and families.)

But even if what Alito argues for the Fourth Amendment is true, it isn’t at all clear that the same should also hold true for the First Amendment. In fact, extending First Amendment protections to corporations benefits the corporation to the detriment of the people who work for it.

In her remarkable and scathing dissent, Justice Ginsburg called the majority court’s opinion a “decision of startling breadth” allowing “commercial enterprises, including corporations” to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

For Ginsburg, the incompatibility of this approach is clear. “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith,” says Ginsburg, “Not so of for-profit corporations.”

Instead, the workers in a for-profit corporation come from a variety of religious communities, and their purpose is to generate a profit, not to generate community among believers.

A woman who has no religious objections to birth control–indeed, a woman whose religion allows her the liberty to make her own choices about family planning–is no longer allowed to exercise those rights free of her employer’s meddling. As Ginsburg noted, this represents a serious confusion over the purpose of for-profit corporations.

Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of Hobby Lobby did nothing to protect the religious liberty of the women who work for Hobby Lobby, but it did protect the religious liberty of their bosses.

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