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Responsibility, freedom, choice, rights — what happened?

The Supreme Court weighed in with a major decision last week that would’ve been hard to miss, as it ruled in the so-called Hobby Lobby case on religious exceptions to some of the insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Needless to say, the commentary/blogosphere/social media world lit up pretty quick. Here are excerpts that engaged us, from both sides of the aisle. We also got plenty of reader comments, which we’ll run on an upcoming page. — Ron Rollins

FROM THE LEFT: Whose moral responsibility are we talking about?

Jay Michaelson, in the Daily Beast: The Hobby Lobby ruling may be a setback, in the long run, to the conservative crusade for "religious liberty."

As much media coverage has discussed, at issue in Hobby Lobby was the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all employers include contraceptive coverage in their ACA-mandated health plans. Three small businesses objected on religious grounds, and in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

But in all that hullabaloo, commentators have overlooked a critical piece of Supreme Court dogma that may prove to be the undoing of conservative religious liberty activists: that the court will not inquire into religious claims.

Early on in Justice Alito’s opinion for the court, he says of the plaintiffs, the Green and Hahn families, that “according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.”

Let’s parse that sentence. “The four contraceptive methods at issue are abortofacients.” That should be a statement of fact, not faith. Either these pills cause abortions, or they don’t. Yet Justice Alito — himself a devout Catholic — says that this fact may be determined based on “religious beliefs.”

If I believe the sun revolves around the earth, is that now a disputable fact? According to Justice Alito, yes. If I have a religious belief that it does, then it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t.

The Hobby Lobby plaintiffs make a second “religious” claim as well: that providing insurance coverage makes one morally culpable for how it is used. Remember, Hobby Lobby isn’t doling out birth control pills; they were being required to offer insurance coverage of contraceptives that someone else might later use.

Surely, the moral responsibility for that use lies with the person who uses it, correct? Are gun stores morally responsible for someone’s decision to shoot? The NRA certainly thinks not. Is McDonald’s morally responsible for someone’s decision to overeat? So why would Hobby Lobby be morally responsible for someone’s decision to use (or not use) a suite of insurance coverage they provide? …

Thus, as Justice Ginsberg also writes, in holding that Hobby Lobby is entitled to its own factual universe, in which contraceptives cause abortion and providing insurance is the same as using it, the Court has opened the door to any number of wild religious claims. … May pious Muslims ban immodestly dressed women, or all women for that matter, from their company’s stores? May they refuse to hire women as employees? … The Court has long refrained from evaluating which religious beliefs are valid and which are not. This doctrine cannot hold.

FROM THE LEFT: Women are semi-persons now, thank you very much.

By Erin Gloria Ryan, at Five men on the Supreme Court said that women's reproductive health care is less important than a woman's boss's superstition-based prudery and moral trepidation about fornication for female pleasure. They ruled that it doesn't matter if birth control actually causes abortions; it only matters if business owners sincerely believe that birth control causes abortions. They ruled that it's OK for a corporate person to discriminate against a female semi-person and dictate that she not spend her compensation on stuff that might possibly be enabling sex without consequences, if they believe that God thinks they should. Female semi-persons who work for these company-persons can simply obtain their birth control directly through the government, say the five men of the Supreme Court, the same way female employees of religious-based nonprofits are supposed to (religious-based nonprofits, by the way, have mounted challenges to signing a piece of paper indicating that they object to birth control, because that objection would indirectly sanction their whoreployees' birth control by admitting that they weren't getting it through work. So we've got that legal mess to look forward to, now).

The five men of the Supreme Court made pains to specify that this only applies to bosses who specifically object to women who want to use a portion of their compensation to obtain a pharmaceutical that will help them not get pregnant. But the actual women of the Supreme Court — each of whom joined in dissenting from the majority Five Man Opinion — see things differently.

FROM THE LEFT: Court’s decision was dismaying and over-broad.

The New York Times editorial board: The Supreme Court's deeply dismaying decision on Monday in the Hobby Lobby case swept aside accepted principles of corporate law and religious liberty to grant owners of closely held, for-profit companies an unprecedented right to impose their religious views on employees.

It was the first time the court has allowed commercial business owners to deny employees a federal benefit to which they are entitled by law based on the owners’ religious beliefs, and it was a radical departure from the court’s history of resisting claims for religious exemptions from neutral laws of general applicability when the exemptions would hurt other people.

The full implications of the decision, which ruled in favor of employers who do not want to include contraceptive care in their company health plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act, will not be known for some time. But the immediate effect, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in a powerful dissent, was to deny many thousands of women contraceptive coverage vital to their well-being and reproductive freedom. It also invites, she said, other “for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”

The case involved challenges by two companies, Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker, to the perfectly reasonable requirement that employer health plans cover (without a co-payment) all birth control methods and services approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The main battleground was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says government may not “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion” unless the burden is necessary to further a “compelling government interest” and achieves it by “the least restrictive means.”

It’s hard to see that burden. Nothing in the contraceptive coverage rule prevented the companies’ owners from worshiping as they choose or advocating against coverage and use of the contraceptives they don’t like.

Nothing compels women to use their insurance on contraceptives. A woman’s choice to use or not to use them is a personal one that does not implicate her employer. Such decisions “will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults,” as Justice Ginsburg noted.

Mr. Alito’s ruling and a concurrence by Justice Anthony Kennedy portray the decision as a narrow one without broader application, like denying vaccine coverage or job discrimination. But that is not reassuring coming from justices who missed the point that denying women access to full health benefits is discrimination.

FROM THE RIGHT: Liberals forget religious people have rights, too.

From Jim Geraghty, at the National Review: How many of us who aren't Orthodox Jews would like to tell an Orthodox Jew, "you have to work on the Sabbath"? How many of us would like to tell a Muslim, you absolutely have to handle pork products? How many would like to tell a Mormon that they have to drink alcohol, or a Christian Scientist that they have to smoke?

I hope you don’t have desire to tell other people to violate their religious beliefs and consciences. You may not share those beliefs, and you may think they’re weird, or strange, or silly, but respecting others’ religious beliefs has been a core component of the United States of America going back to Plymouth Rock.

The folks who run Hobby Lobby believed that these four forms of birth control, out of 20, amount to abortifacients, and thus they are, from their perspective, killing innocent human life. You can disagree with them. But all Hobby Lobby wanted to do was not pay for them. They didn’t ban them (although they may prefer that option, someday down the road). They didn’t swear to fire or punish any employee who used them. All they sought was to follow their consciences and not pay for something they believed equaled murder. Considering how any employee had the option of A) paying for those methods themselves or B) finding another employer, that doesn’t seem like an outrageous expectation on the part of the company.

On Facebook yesterday, I saw someone respond to the news by muttering, “Stupid religious people!” Whether or not you think this belief is stupid, a core part of America is the right to hold and practice that belief!

What we’re seeing in the reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision is some liberals’ desire to not allow people to be “stupid religious people” anymore; we must all be reconditioned, to bow before the will and judgment of our betters, who control the levers of the government.

FROM THE RIGHT: Either side’s extreme views merely muddy the truth.

By Daniel McCarthy, at the American Conservative: Of the many foolish things said about the Hobby Lobby case, a contender for most foolish is the "Buy your own contraception!" snark on the right that runs parallel to the left-wing exaggerations about bosses dictating contraception choices to women. What the snark disguises is that the principle at stake is the same for both sides: if you're compelled to purchase a service, you — whether "you" are a business or an individual — want to have some say in what it is you're buying. Since it's no longer a market transaction when government insists that it must take place, the question of just what is being bought has to become a political and legal question. Women who say that they should get a basic service when they are forced to buy an insurance plan are in exactly the same position as a company that says it has religious objections to certain kinds of services. Neither claim is risible; both arise from the straightforward notion that you should get what you want, and not get what you don't want, when you have to buy something.

The trouble with ideologues left or right isn’t just what they want, it’s how oblivious they are to their own excesses: they can’t imagine that anyone could have a reason not to want to subsidize someone else’s contraception or that any woman might feel cheated and demeaned by a company failing to provide insurance that covers birth control. You don’t actually have to agree with the metaphysical apparatus behind either side to see that something conscientious and intimate is being traduced by closing the gap between government, business, and private life.

Public policy is going to involve a clash of values one way or another, and even when one side “wins,” the political fighting doesn’t stop — the stakes are much lower, in practical terms, than ideologues can afford to admit.

FROM THE RIGHT: It’s interesting to see feminists lose it over this issue.

From Teresa Mull, at Rare: The internet is full of feminist wrath and illogical hysteria against the Supreme Court's ruling on the Hobby Lobby case. The fems did not get their way, and it's bringing out the worst in them.

Let’s dissect a few of their flawed arguments making the rounds in the cyber world:

Here’s a classic headline: “BREAKING: SCOTUS Decides Corporations Have Religious Liberty, Women Do Not In Choosing Birth Control.“

Translation: Because corporations are not being forced to pay for it, I no longer have any freedom when it comes to choosing my birth control.

Doesn’t this sound like the poutiest, melodramatic, victim-ish statement in the world? And I can just hear the scoffing, dismissive way the author typed out “religious liberty.”

Looky here, Ms. Magazine: My employer doesn’t pay for the wine I drink at dinner (despite the health benefits!), but that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to drink Boone’s Farm and Boone’s Farm only. I can buy whatever kind of wine I want, because my employer pays me money that I can use freely in any way I choose. My choices may be more limited because I am paying for the wine myself, but that comes down to my own budgetary choices and an expensive palate.

Furthermore, we all have a choice in our employer. No matter whom you work for (unless it be, say, Hugh Hefner), certain things won’t be paid for, while others will.

Employers are not required to pay for contraceptive coverage, but many still will. In fact, Hobby Lobby isn’t against paying for all contraceptive services. They are just vehemently opposed to paying for abortifacients. …

Did feminists just never have sex before Obamacare?