The Supreme Court has not done a good job of clearly deciding just when a religious objection should trump federal law. In its recent Hobby Lobby decision, it seems to have muddied the waters even more, given that for the first time in our history, a for-profit corporation has religious rights.
Hobby Lobby specifically concerned contraception and the Affordable Care Act’s mandate, but the message it sent was much broader. Will this open the door to other religious exemptions, despite the Court’s insistence that this was a “narrow” ruling? Why should companies receive a special carve out for contraception but not blood transfusions or having their taxes go to paying for war and capital punishment or their objection to inter-racial marriage – all things some religions have long-standing, moral objections to?
Hobby Lobby has also opened up other fronts in this war, including the attempt by a nurse who morally objects to contraception to be hired by a family-planning clinic where prescribing contraception is one of the clinic’s primary services. (Story below.)
On a related note, what about the gay person who demands to be hired by a church that preaches against homosexual activity? Or North Carolina’s law that bans even liberal churches from performing same-sex weddings?
Does anyone have a good answer on where this line should be drawn? Or should corporations, but not people, be able to get from under any federal mandate by claiming religious freedom?
Sara Hellwege is a nurse in Tampa, FL who opposes the use of some of the most effective and female-controlled forms of contraception, such as the birth control pill. Despite that position, Hellwege applied for a job with the Tampa Family Health Centers. When asked by the human resources director about her affiliation with an anti-contraception group called the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Hellwege admitted she would refuse to prescribe the birth control pill to anyone who wanted it. She was summarily told that prescribing the birth control pill was part of the job and was not hired.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, including enacting policies that, while gender-neutral on their face, disproportionately hurt either men or women. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 to clarify that it meant for Title VII to protect employees from discrimination based on pregnancy -- even though such policies and harassment technically did not single out one sex, just “pregnant people” versus “non-pregnant people.” Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy discrimination constitutes sex discrimination.
Title VII can apply to not only pregnancy but also the potentiality of pregnancy, so corporations that single out contraceptives while covering other medical care discriminate based on gender.