Burwell v Hobby Lobby Leads Nowhere

John RobertsOne month ago, after the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, I wrote, SCOTUS Says Not All Religions Are Equal. In that article, I discussed how the real takeaway from the decision was not that religious companies can deprive women of birth control healthcare coverage; it was that not all religions are equal. In other words, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court violated the Establishment Clause. The reason is very simple: the majority argued this case very narrowly so that they wouldn’t have to similarly apply it to Christian Scientists, for example. Doing so would have basically signaled the end of law in the United States: you can do anything God tells you to. The problem is that I don’t see any reason to think that conservative Christians who are against birth control pills have a more sincere belief than Christian Scientists who believe that any disease (Except broken bones!) can be prayed away.

As I wrote then, don’t think that the Court is going to find any religious rights that the five conservative justices don’t share. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from getting excited. The Satanic Temple, for example, is looking to use Burwell v Hobby Lobby to make the case against “informed consent” laws. These are laws that Republicans have passed all over the country that require women be given generally dubious and often explicitly religious information before they can get an abortion. These are extremely vile laws that in addition to everything else treat adult women as though they were children.

The Satanic Temple’s reasoning is that their beliefs about medicine are dictated by the best scientific evidence and so their religious rights are being violated by being required to hear about things that go against their beliefs. It’s a good argument. And despite what people claim, The Satanic Temple is a serious religious group that sees Satan as representing those on the margins of society—who have been, to be blunt, cast out. (I get angry especially at liberals who just dismiss it as a trolling organization.) But of course, the Court won’t even hear such a case unless it has to. The liberals already know how dangerous it is that the majority did, so they won’t be interested in hearing the case. And the conservatives won’t want to go against their conservative Christian ideology. (It is, of course, possible they would have to hear it because a lower court finds for The Satanic Temple because of Burwell v Hobby Lobby. If they happened, the conservatives would find some loophole like having to hear bad information is not the same as having to pay for drugs.)

Now, I hear from Right Wing Watch, Alabama Officials: Coal Regulations Violate God’s Will. According to the article:

And now, out of Alabama, we get a perfect example of biblical economics at work. AL.com reports on a press conference delivered by officials from the Alabama Public Service Commission and the Republican National Committee yesterday at which they argued against new EPA coal plant regulations by claiming that “coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God’s plan.”

“Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” asked commissioner-elect Chip Beeker.

Sure, why not? For over 200 years, the Supreme Court has found that religious rights do not trump government law. This is why Utah had to get rid of polygamy in order to become a state. (It was a big issue before it became a state and was only a territory.) But the Supreme Court made a major mistake in Burwell v Hobby Lobby. I don’t blame most of the conservatives, but Chief Justice Roberts really should have known better. But I suspect that he just thinks this one can be finessed like Bush v Gore. And he may be right.

The main thing is that Burwell v Hobby Lobby isn’t going to lead to any expansion of religious liberty. It was just another conservative effort to harm Obamacare. In the long term—within fifty years, I think—the Supreme Court will overturn Burwell v Hobby Lobby. And historians will wonder, “What were they thinking?” Or maybe we will all just get used to the Supreme Court being an extension of the parties. The conservatives justices will always find how ever conservatives want them to, regardless of the necessary twisted logic. But I don’t really think so. I think eventually the Supreme Court will be fixed, and John Roberts will be remembered as the Chief Justice who broke the Court.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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