Heck’s Hobby Lobby Hopes Dashed By SCOTUS

Joe HeckNevada’s 3rd District Representative, Joe Heck (R), made this remark concerning the Hobby Lobby Decision:

“Heck said he agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday in the Hobby Lobby case. The high court said businesses that are family owned or closely held don’t have to provide health care coverage for birth control because the companies have religious objections.

Heck said the ruling was narrowly written to accommodate religious beliefs that life begins at conception and he didn’t believe it should be broadly interpreted to apply to companies that aren’t closely held.” [LVRJ]

Here’s what makes the Congressman’s commentary unreasonable.

#1.  What is the standard for “religious objections?  Since the Hobby Lobby Decision as crafted by Justice Samuel Alito doesn’t specify a standard by which the merits of a religious objection are to be discerned, we might safely assume that a mere assertion of a religious objection is sufficient.  This is certainly at odds with the most obvious “religious objection” standard in another part of the federal government — the military.

In order to attain a “1-O” status with the U.S. military, there is a strenuous test for religious convictions.  According to the American Bar Association:

“Applicants must demonstrate that their beliefs upon which their conscientious objection is based are the primary controlling force in their lives. They must produce evidence in their written application (and during their subsequent hearing before an officer) demonstrating that neither the avoidance of military service nor expediency is the motivating factor in their claim. To this end, DoD Directive 1300.6 lists numerous factors to consider in examining the merits of a servicemember’s application, such as his or her training in the home and church, participation in religious activities, and general demeanor and pattern of conduct.”

The revised DoD Directive 1300.6 (pdf) which replaced the 1968 version in 2007, goes on for some twenty pages of specifications regarding the applicants’ qualifications for conscientious objector status.  One of the more common phrases associated with the qualification is that the beliefs must be “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held.”

In the case of a member of the Armed Services who wishes separation or reassignment based on religious scruples there is a process which begins with an extensive interview with a service chaplain, followed by a review by an investigating officer; there will be consultation with the Staff JAG, and then a hearing. Following the informal hearing, the investigating officer will file a report which will be forwarded to the commander.  The report and recommendations flow through the chain of command to the officer designated with the authority to make a final decision on the matter.  The separation from service or reassignment may be granted if it is concluded during the process that the individual’s beliefs are “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held.”

No such test appears to have been applied to the objections of Conestoga or Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby simply asserted that its religious beliefs precluded funding for insurance benefits which included birth control and abortion.

If there is no test or evaluative process by which my religious objections — to anything — may be reviewed, then what is to prevent me from asserting that my religious beliefs prevent me from considering anyone for employment who is of a faith other than my own?  May I assert my ‘religious conviction’ that those who don’t keep Kosher (or Halal) are impure, unclean or otherwise unemployable. May I cut off from service any  who “partakes of any blood?” (Lev 7:22)

Who is to determine if my beliefs are “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held,” or if they are a simply an expedient way to refuse service to Jews or Muslims?  Or, might my objections (see Leviticus) be such that I can refuse service or employment to Basque Christians, on the grounds that many of them  make and consume blood sausage.

If this argument sounds frivolous, it is no more so than the case cited by Justice Ginsberg in her dissent — Newman vs. Piggie Park Enterprises.  The proprietors of Piggie Park (restaurant chain) objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 partially on the grounds that it “contravened the Will of God.” “Defendant Bessinger further contends that the Act violates his freedom of religion under the First Amendment “since his religious beliefs compel him to oppose any integration of the races whatever.” [USDC -DColumbia]  The Supreme Court ruled against Piggie Park Enterprises in March 1968.

Herein we have a closely held family business, the patriarch of which had religious objections to integration, who contended that religion trumped the application of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  If this sounds close to the characteristics of the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Cases it’s because they share obvious elements — just entirely different conclusions.  In short, without a test or process by which religion can be separated from convenient religiosity the adjudication of religious objections becomes highly subjective.

#2.  The decision was neither narrow, nor tightly drawn.  For all the palaver in the decision about the “narrow-ness” of the judgment, the reasoning left the door wide open to further litigation concerning the applicability of religious objections to contraception, as evidenced by some 30 cases piling up in the judicial system in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision.  [DMN]

Immediately in line after the ‘closely held businesses,’ are the non-profit organizations, such as Wheaton College, Notre Dame University, and others for whom even filling out the form to take advantage of the Administration’s accommodation for them is ‘unconscionable.’ [WaPo]  It should be asked — if the Hobby Lobby decision was such a narrow thing, then why did the Supreme Court almost immediately grant an injuction against the contraception mandate accommodation on behalf of non-profit Wheaton College?  Representative Heck hopes, or at least asserts, that the Hobby Lobby ruling only applies to closely held firms — but in its action on behalf of Wheaton, the line immediately shifted out from under Representative Heck’s assertion and right into the realm of non-profit organizations.

#3. The decision blurs the understanding of earned benefits.  The objections from those who describe themselves as religious to procuring health insurance plans which cover contraception for their employees appear to contend that they are being forced to subsidize medication of which they do not approve.

This has several unfortunate threads entangled in it. Contraceptive prescriptions are subject to approval by the FDA, not the Chamber of Commerce.  They are used for many other reasons that simply to avoid pregnancy.  Are we allowing a corporation to determine that even though a female employee has endometriosis, menorrhagia, or polycystic ovarian syndrome the medication prescribed by her physician is not to be covered because of the employer’s objections? [DB]

The health insurance offered to company employees is part of the total compensation package.  The company may pay for part of the premiums, the employee also contributes.  Does the company’s contribution determine who will control the inclusions in the insurance benefit, or the employee?  In the Hobby Lobby Decision the Supreme Court ruled that the employer’s money speaks louder than the employee’s contribution…even though the insurance may be handled by a third party administrator.

#4. The ruling broadly asserts the efficacy of one and only one religious perspective on life.  If a person happens to believe that life begins at conception then the judgment of the Court is acceptable. However, there are those who hold that life doesn’t begin until the newborn takes its first independent breath.   There’s nothing narrow about a Supreme Court decision which sanctions the view of one particular religion, thus denigrating the views of others.

In short, the decision combined with the Wheaton injunction allows corporations and non-profit entities to require their employees to either follow the proscriptions of the institutional faith or individually procure health insurance benefits on their own.  This is close to, if not identical with, forcing employees to follow the faith of their employers — and not their own individual consciences. Such an imposition is hardly the prescription for religious liberty.

As much as Representative Heck may wish to place a happy, non-threatening spin, on the Hobby Lobby decision, he whiffed on this one while the Supreme Court moved home plate.

***

See also:  Department of Defense Instruction, 1300.6, May 31, 2007. (pdf) John P. Jurden, Conscientious  Objectors, GPSolo, Jan-Feb 2005.  Newman, Neal, Mungin v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 256 F.Supp. 941 (1966), July 28, 1966. Newman, Neal, Mungin v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 377 F.2d 433 (1967), April 24, 1967.

Sherman & Zoll, “After Hobby Lobby…”, Dallas Morning News, July 6, 2014. Jonathan Adler, Supreme Court grants Wheaton College an injunction against contraception mandate accommodation,” WaPo, July 3, 2014.  “Joe Heck calls Hobby Lobby Decision Reasonable,” Nevada Democratic Party, and Las Vegas Review Journal, July 1, 2014.

 

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