Cennamology Chief Editor
In the movement that started with the Citizens United decision in 2010, the Supreme Court has once again granted rights to corporations that should only be reserved to people - religious freedom. The court essentially stated that a corporation, as long as it is "closely held" or family owned, is allowed to impose its religious views on its employees.
While the Citizens United decision granted corporations personhood rights at the expense of democracy and fair elections, the 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision today is a further empowerment of corporate personhood at the expense of women's rights.
The deeply Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby, who are known for promoting the eradication of the wall separating church and state through funding Bible-based studies in public schools, argued that they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's mandate that employers provide employees with a healthcare plan that includes certain forms of birth control, including IUDs. The owners of Hobby Lobby objected to this because they believe that IUDs are a form of birth control that is equivalent to abortion, even though every single credible scientific study on the issue says otherwise.
Although the outcome of this case is very unfortunate, the decision could have gone much further and have been much more damaging. The opinion of the court officially states that today's ruling cannot be used to justify corporate discrimination against people due to religious issues - so the LGBT community can breathe a sign of relief. Also, the justices could have said that any employer for any company has the right to deny his or her workers any treatments that are contrary to his or her beliefs. This means that you would be out of luck if your employer is a Christian Scientist - who believes that the only healthcare plan you need is prayer.
Even though the ruling was more narrow than that, there is still nothing to be happy about with the precedent this puts in place. The ruling was narrowly tailored to apply only to contraception and only to businesses that are "closely held." By "closely held," the court means that the business must be family owned, may not be a publicly traded company, and that the religious beliefs must be sincerely held. This means that a boss cannot just use his or her religious beliefs as a loophole to deny coverage for any frivolous reason loosely based in religion.
Therefore, it is unlikely that (for now) any businesses other than very small businesses or family owned conglomerates who have owners that are well known for their religious leanings like Hobby Lobby will be exempt from the ACA mandate. An important requirement that Justice Alito mentions in the majority decision is that there must be strong evidence that the company was formed around some sort of religious principles. That means that other "closely held" companies that do not have public shares, like Comcast and Bloomberg to name a couple, are not exempt from the mandate.
Despite the fact that the ruling was narrowly-tailored, all court rulings are based on precedent, and this may set a dangerous precedent for future cases. What is most concerning is the precedent this case sets for corporate personhood, which has grown over the past four years. This case will inevitably pave the way for a future case concerning "discrimination," for the lack of a better word, against corporations. It is not out of the question that another corporation can come to the court and say that the requirement that a company be "closely held" to qualify to be exempt from the mandate unconstitutionally discriminates against larger corporations.
Since the Supreme Court now considers corporations to be people, what is stopping business owners from trying to claim that it violates the Equal Protection Clause that only these so-called "closely held" businesses are allowed to be exempt? The case can be made in the future that all corporations, like all people, should be treated equally under the law.
This case essentially creates a new class of corporations that are granted religious freedom rights that were, up until today, reserved only for people and churches. For example, the Waltons are the family that own WalMart. They could theoretically take it up with the Supreme Court that the fact that they have public shares should not mean that they should not be granted the same rights given to other big businesses that are family owned like Hobby Lobby. Therefore, WalMart can claim discrimination, and this very corporate-friendly court will most likely expand the number of businesses eligible for the exemption to all corporations. This will give businesses of all shapes and sizes unlimited rights over its employees, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that this is where the precedent set by this case might lead.
Because of this, the Hobby Lobby case shows that the Supreme Court puts the rights of rich and powerful corporations above the women of America, over 90 percent of which use some form of contraception. Since this case was tailored only to apply to contraception, which is evident by Alito's assertion that each case must be looked at individually, it is clear that the court is treating women's health differently than other types of healthcare. Treating women's health differently in the justice system in order to expand corporate personhood is another dangerous precedent set by this case - a precedent on women's health set by five male justices.
Everyone who is concerned about women's health issues should be worried about the precedent set by this ruling. Employers at Hobby Lobby now have the right to intrude on healthcare decisions that should only be between a woman and her doctor. The Supreme Court has said that the corporation's religious freedom is more important than a female employee's religious freedom. Freedom of religion is not simply a right to practice one's religion, it is also freedom from imposition of one's religion on your life. The owners of Hobby Lobby will now be able to impose their religious beliefs on their female employees.
Because of that, the outcome of this case is extremely unfortunate. The court determined that the religious views of the boss are more important than the religious freedom of the employee. It just adds one more chapter to the Roberts court putting corporations over people - corporations do not just have the same rights as people anymore, they have MORE rights. The court determined that the rights of corporations are superior to the rights of their workers. The founders are rolling over in their graves.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote, "it bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."
This quote just further illustrates the importance of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case. Women are being shortchanged by the Supreme Court in favor of corporations, and now their health care and family planning decisions can be made by their boss instead of their doctor. Some women will not be able to afford it, and the men on the Supreme Court seem to be oblivious as to how expensive contraception actually is. Luckily, Hobby Lobby pays their employees over minimum wage, but many other women will not be so lucky. And all because of closed-minded bosses.
Other corporations will try to capitalize on the precedent set in place today, and with a corporate court, the employers will know that momentum is on their side. This decision will make more and more employers want to interfere with the healthcare decisions of their female employees in order to save money, all while hiding behind the cloak of religion. And because of this, the War on Women continues.