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Posts tagged "Religious Freedom"

h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW

As I said before, if the ruling at SCOTUS goes Hobby Lobby's way in June (most likely the final week or the 30th), it'll be a scary preposition for America.

h/t: Rev. Harry Knox and Jill C. Morrison at HuffPost Religion

The ruling will be a very close one either way come June. Hopefully, SCOTUS sides with Sebelius. 

h/t: Ryan J. Reilly and Laura Bassett at HuffPost Politics

The questions sound absurd: is a for-profit corporation a person with religious beliefs? Should the religious beliefs of your employer dictate what kind of medical care you get? 

Yet these are the questions before the Supreme Court this week, and given where some of the justices stand – that a corporation is a person (see: Citizens United), that a woman’s reproductive choices are up for debate (see: the “partial-birth” abortion ruling) – there may be many more absurdities across America after Tuesday’s oral arguments on Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

There’s a real chance that the court could buy the most absurd argument of all: that a company, owned by a person who believes that some forms of contraception are morally wrong, can refuse to comply with federal law – and can refuse to provide comprehensive insurance coverage to employees. If the justices side with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood – a chain craft store and a furniture maker, both owned by men who oppose some forms of birth control – then you can prepare for a chain reaction of discrimination.

Those of us who care about women’s equality, workers’ rights and legal protections for minority groups – there are a lot of us – are nervous. So I called up Sandra Fluke, the reproductive justice activist who is nowrunning for state legislature in California, for a preview.

“Not only does this case potentially undermine the protections for affordable insurance coverage for contraception, but it could undermine a whole host of protections against discrimination – race, sexual orientation, gender,” Fluke told me late last week. “We’ve seen people step forward and say it: ‘I shouldn’t have to pay men and women equal wages because of my religion. I shouldn’t have to serve LGBT folks.’”

This week’s cases are about contraception. But as Fluke points out, the issues will go far beyond corporate personhood, insurance requirements and the healthcare law – no small topics of debate themselves. The justices are now prepared to set in stone the it’s-my-religion defense of wholesale discrimination, the groundwork for which has been set across the conservative spectrum for years.

“Right-wing groups pushing religious liberty at the expense of women’s health,” Fluke says, “use what should be a shield for one person’s individual personal beliefs – and a legal protection of those beliefs – to try to turn that into a sword to impose those values more broadly and undermine other peoples’ ability to make their own medical choices.”

Freedom of religion is carved into the Constitution, and the Affordable Care Act allows churches and other houses of worship a kind of out from the contraception mandate. What happens if that loophole gets undermined by for-profit companies? What happens if the Supreme Court opens up the law of the land to outright bigotry disguised as “freedom”?

We saw hints last month in the laboratories of democracy, where statehouse politicians introduced bills that claimed to protect religious liberty by allowing wide discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In Kansas, a failed bill would have allowed owners of hotels, restaurants and other entities to refuse to serve or accommodate gay people. And we don’t have to talk about Arizona again, do we?

Some powerful religious people also believe that women should be in charge of the home and shouldn’t work for pay. Do we really want to open the door to the wholesale refusal to hire women – or the right to pay them less?

Religious beliefs around medicine vary widely, too: if a person believes HIV is God’s punishment or that HIV doesn’t cause Aids, should she have the right to refuse to buy insurance that covers HIV for her employees? If a company is owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses, does it not have to cover blood transfusions? If it’s owned by a Scientologist, can it exclude insurance coverage for mental health care?

Oh, and Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods have identified a handful of contraceptive methods that they say kill fertilized eggs. That’s probably not true, according to scientists. But the veracity of beliefs don’t matter very much at the Supreme Court – just that religious individuals sincerely hold them.

The same conservative hostility to women that underlies the contraception mandate cases rained down on Fluke when she testified before Congress about contraception access. For her efforts, Rush Limbaugh called her a slut two years ago. Her name remains attached to anti-Obamacare talking points – Sandra Fluke wants you to pay for her birth control is standard conservative blog fodder to this day.

Those attacks put Fluke on the map as a young advocate, and now on the road to office in those very same laboratories of democracy. From that vantage point, she’s heard from women all over the country who see how cases like Hobby Lobby are taking us backward.

“A lot of folks have said that they’re surprised we’re still fighting about this,” Fluke tells me. “They’re surprised that we’re still fighting battles they thought we had won.”

While Fluke says she’s less surprised at the ongoing birth-control battles, her position as an inadvertent contraception ambassador has made her realize just how fringe the anti-contraception arguments actually are – even if those making them are particularly loud, and even if the fringe ends up becoming a legal reality.

h/t: Jill Filipovic at The Guardian

Several times over the last few weeks, we have wondered why members of Congress and Religious Right activists continue to appear on the radio program hosted by conspiracy theorist and End Times fanatic Rick Wiles, given that Wiles is a bona fide crackpot and a loose cannon, which is something that Todd Starnes learned first-hand when he appeared on Wiles’ program on Friday.

Starnes was on to discuss his recent column about a controversy at the Air Force Academy over cadets posting Bible verses on their dormitory white boards, which brought a complaint from Mikey Weinstein, the director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Wiles announced that he was fed up with Weinstein and said that he needed to be met by a bunch of special forces commandos in a dark alley and “given an attitude adjustment.” To his credit, Starnes took offense at this statement, denounced it, and ended the interview:

Wiles: You know what Mikey Weinstein needs? I’ll say this on my radio show, I can get away with it: he really needs to be met in a dark alley by a couple of special forces commandos and given an attitude adjustment. You don’t have to comment, Todd; I said it on my program. I’m fed up with that guy.

Starnes: I have to really incredibly object to that.

Wiles: I’m fed up with the guy. I’m fed up with the guy.

Starnes: Well, that may be the case but this is a free country and individuals are allowed to voice their opinions of whether or not they agree or disagree and they should be able to do so without any threat of violence or force …

Wiles: Okay, but he doesn’t just express his opinions …

Starnes: It doesn’t matter …

Wiles: He’s perusing Christians. He is on a war against Christianity.

Starnes: Well, that is certainly his right. The issue here is not Mr. Weinstein and, again, we should live in a country where people can express their views without any threat of violence. The issue here is the Air Force Academy and this idea that they kowtow to ever single telephone call they receive from him.

Wiles: That’s the point I’m making.

Starnes: And I do apologize, but I do have to end this interview. Again, we just strongly object to that comment you made, sir.

Wiles: I didn’t mean to offend you, Todd. I’m just saying I think many Americans are just plain fed-up with this guy.

Starnes: Well, I’m sure they are and again, but we do have to end this interview. Thank you very much.

Wiles: Okay Todd, thank you. Good bye. Well, I tried to five years to get Todd Starnes on TruNews. I finally got him and he hung on my after five minutes.

After Starnes hung up, Wiles spent the remainder of the segment defending his comment and saying that he was sick of feckless Christians like Starnes who are more concerned about protecting their careers than they are with standing up to the “fat-mouthed atheists” and “Jesus-hating bigots” who are operating “under the spirit of Antichrist.”

From the 03.21.2014 edition of TruNews:

h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW

imageKeith Ellison: Birth control haters back ‘corporate personhood’ over ‘individual liberty’ (via Raw Story )

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) on Sunday warned Republicans that allowing the “corporate personhood” of Hobby Lobby to trump the the right of people who want to use birth control would set a dangerous precedent for individual liberties in the United…



Next week, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of contraceptive coverage, hearing arguments in a closely-watched lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. Two for-profit companies — the craft chain Hobby Lobby and the furniture-making company Conestoga Wood Specialties — are fighting for their right to withhold insurance coverage for certain types of contraceptive methods based on their religious beliefs. But there’s actually much more at stake than prescription drug coverage.

The two plaintiffs in these cases object not just to covering specific types of birth control, but also to providing counseling about that birth control. In Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit, for instance, the company states that it does not want to follow the Obamacare provision that forces employers to “provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices, as well as related education and counseling.”

The media coverage surrounding the upcoming challenges has mainly focused on the first part of that argument, as reproductive rights advocates point out that women need access to affordable contraceptive methods regardless of their boss’ personal beliefs about birth control. However, the second part threatens to have incredibly far-reaching ramifications for women and doctors in this country, too. Essentially, if Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are successful, they’ll win the right to refuse to extend coverage for doctor’s visits that include discussion about certain forms of contraception, like IUDs or the morning after pill.

“It’s frankly a rather radical idea — the idea that someone can say that if your visit to your doctor is going to receive payment from your insurance company, then your doctor can’t talk to you about certain subjects,” Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, explained in an interview with ThinkProgress. “Counseling and education about contraception has been a basic part of a medical visit forever, even before the methods themselves were covered. Before we had prescription drug coverage, we certainly had coverage for the visit to your doctor, and there were never any limitations about what you could talk to your doctor about.”

And particularly when it comes to contraceptive counseling, simply skipping over certain methods isn’t an option. In order to obtain informed consent from their patients, doctors are obligated to explain the full range of optionsavailable.

According to Clare Coleman, the president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), informed consent is the “bedrock” of medical ethics. “Coverage of counseling is essential. It’s a conversation about intention and life stage as much as it’s a conversation about the actual prescription — in family planning, we have to meet the patient where she is, and find the method that’s right for her,” Coleman told ThinkProgress. “That conversation needs to be careful and detailed before the patient agrees to any medical intervention.”

So, since many doctors wouldn’t feel comfortable limiting the contraceptive options that they tell their patients about, this could force the employees who work for companies like Hobby Lobby to make a difficult choice. If they want their doctor’s visit to be covered by their insurance company, they’ll have to avoid talking about birth control altogether. Or, if they do want to discuss contraception, they’ll have to pay for the visit out of their own pocket. They’ll essentially have to choose between a potential financial burden or a potential health burden.

Or they may not understand what’s at stake in the first place. Coleman pointed out that, in a scenario where bosses are allowed to refuse to cover contraceptive counseling, their employees might not realize those restrictions exist. “Having a white card in your wallet does not mean you understand how your insurance works,” she noted. “The patient will not necessarily come armed with this information.”

To make matters more complicated, companies that withhold coverage for some types of services often resist full disclosure. They may not explain to their workers exactly what their plan excludes, or provide them with a referral to access those services elsewhere.

“It’s an incredible devaluing of the insurance that you as an employee work for,” Sonfield, who recently published a policy review of the central arguments in the upcoming Supreme Court challenges, pointed out. “This is telling you that you can’t use your compensation — your own benefits that you have earned — in a way that your boss objects to. And that is a frightening road for us to be going down, as a society.”

Ultimately, insurance coverage for preventative care, like contraceptive services and regular doctor’s visits, is a benefit that employees earn through the hours that they put in to their jobs. Making employees pay for the full cost of their birth control and their doctor’s visits ends up shifting more insurance costs onto them. It’s somewhat analogous to a salary cut.

And birth control isn’t the only type of medical care that some Americans object to on religious grounds. There are some groups who are opposed to modern health services like vaccinations, blood transfusions, or mental health care. If these upcoming legal challenges are successful, that could open the door for employers to restrict their workers’ coverage for doctors’ visits that include discussion of those topics, too. It’s a slippery slope.

Nonetheless, this particular issue hasn’t received very much attention.

“They’ve really downplayed this aspect of their case. I think it’s gotten buried,” Sonfield told ThinkProgress. “I think the plaintiffs in these cases, along with their supporters, have done an excellent job of crafting the messaging and shaping the debate, and it’s been playing out on their grounds.”

ThinkProgress reached out to Hobby Lobby’s legal counsel, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, to confirm the company’s opposition to certain types of contraceptive counseling and ask how this type of objection would be implemented in practice. The communications department refused to comment.

From Sonfield’s perspective, the issue of contraceptive counseling proves that some of the central claims about employers’ religious liberty — namely, that practicing their deeply-held religious beliefs isn’t about infringing on their workers’ freedoms — just aren’t accurate. “We often see statements that this case is not trying to interfere in women’s choices, and is not trying to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship, because it’s just about the employer’s involvement. That’s just patently not true.”

“Your employer shouldn’t be able to intercede in the medical decisions that are right for you,” Coleman noted.

Source: Tara Culp Ressler for ThinkProgress

H/T: Miranda Blue at RWW

BarbWire, the new conservative website run by Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber, today posted a Heritage Foundation article called “Four Businesses Whose Owners Were Penalized for Their Religious Beliefs.”

But Barber added his own editorial flare to the article by adding an image of an anti-Semitic Nazi poster which reads, “He who wears this symbol is an enemy of our people,” to describe the supposed persecution of business owners in the US who discriminate against gay customers.

h/t: Brian Tashman at RWW

Fox News commentator Todd Starnes is furious that the Romeike family, a family that left Germany for Tennessee over disagreements with German homeschooling laws, has lost its petition for asylum. And of course, Starnes and Michael Farris, who has been representing the Romeike family, blame President Obama.

The Supreme Court yesterday denied an appeal by the Romeikes of a Board of Immigration Appeals ruling that found that they are not eligible for asylum.

The Sixth Circuit ruled against the Romeike’s petition last year, with Judge Jeffrey Sutton — a George W. Bush appointee — finding that “the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in particular or homeschoolers in general for persecution.” Conservative legal commentator Eugene Volokh notes that a ruling in favor of the Romeike family would effectively give asylum to anyone who disagreed with their home countries’ laws.

But Farris isn’t having any of it, claiming that the Obama administration seeks “to crush religious freedom” and would have deported the pilgrims: “Had this administration been waiting at Plymouth Rock, they would’ve told the Pilgrims to go back home.”

Starnes, meanwhile, seems to think that undocumented immigrants in America, unlike the Romeike clan, do not want legal status in the US: “There are nearly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. You’d think the Obama administration could find a place [sic] eight immigrants who want to live here legally.”

HSLDA head Michael Farris is an idiot and one of the key persons who represents everything wrong with the homeschooling movement and this country. 

h/t: Brian Tashman at RWW


h/t: Zack Ford at Think Progress LGBT

From the 02.27.2014 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:


Hobby Lobby President Steve Green and his mother Barbara Green outside the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City in July

"There’s an excellent chance that the manner in which the Court disposes of Hobby Lobby will say something significant on the constitutionality of these state statutes,” Fred Gesnick, a law professor at Brigham Young University, told TPM. “It could be a powerful precedent.”

The Court will hear oral arguments in Hobby Lobby next month, with a decision to come in the following months.

Supporters of these bills would “gain a better argument” if the Court ruled in their favor, added Doug NeJaime, a law professor at University of California-Irvine. “If they win on that question, it’s just a leveling down to states to say, ‘These are the same types of rights we’re seeking under state free exercise laws.’”

So if they get a favorable decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the proponents of legislation like Arizona’s could use that momentum to continue pushing that kind of statute across the country, advocates warn. While there has been a raft of new anti-gay discrimination laws introduced this year, the gay rights community says it’s only the beginning.

"Proponents are taking a timeout. They’re rethinking how to tweak the bills," Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group, said. "They’re likely to try again. They’re very passionately determined, so I do think we’re likely to see many more chapters of this story."

Demonstrators opposing Idaho’s “religious freedom” bill in the statehouse rotunda in Boise on Feb 17.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the primary law in question is the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to have some compelling interest to interfere with the free exercise of religion. The case hinges on whether that law applies to for-profit corporations.

But the legal issues in play trace back to a fundamental First Amendment question: whether one person’s exercise of professed religious beliefs can infringe on the constitutional rights of another. Those challenging the Obamacare contraception mandate argue that businesses and individuals should have broad discretion to exercise their religion. Their opponents counter that there must be some threshold in which the harm inflicted on another supersedes that religious conviction.

That would also be the central question in any theoretical litigation challenging one of the “religious freedom” bills being proposed by conservatives nationwide, if one became law, and that’s why the manner in which the court resolves that issue is likely to have far-reaching effects beyond the health law’s contraception rule.

"The most important issue in these cases is whether they require the vindication of the religious objection at all costs," Gesnick said. "The Supreme Court decisions are pretty clear that an accommodation statute that has an unyielding insistence on accommodation of religion, despite the burden that it imposes on others, is not constitutional. It violates the Establishment Clause."

"The line that Hobby Lobby is pushing," he said, "is that no one gets to tell them what is a substantial burden on their religion. That’s entirely subjective. That’s entirely within their discretion. Any court cannot tell them that something is not a substantial burden."

A group opposing same sex marriage demonstrates Feb. 25 in front of federal court in Detroit, where Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban is being litigated.

Constitutional precedent does allow for some religious exemptions from government laws for certain religious entities. For example, churches can “discriminate” against people who don’t belong to their religion when hiring a pastor.

But the question presented in Hobby Lobby — and which would be further explored in a case challenging one of these “religious freedom” bills — is whether those protections should be extended to for-profit businesses and any individual who claims them.

"This is really a much bigger exception to what would normally be anti-discrimination law, to say that for-profit businesses and any individual has an exemption that they otherwise wouldn’t have," DeJaime said. "You’re basically saying the entire world can potentially claim a religious exemption."

As for more explicit laws that offer protection for discrimination against gay couples, as had been proposed in Kansas, they would likely face challenges based on the Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans, a 1996 decision which prevented Colorado from denying LGBT citizens the protections of the state’s anti-discrimination law.

"It’s unprecedented to just carve out of all anti-discrimination protections one class of people," DeJaime said. "Something like that would probably be suspect given constitutional equal protection doctrine at the federal level."

But bills like Arizona’s, which don’t name homosexuality outright but seemed clearly intended to allow anti-gay discrimination and would likely have that effect, leave more legal wriggle room, legal experts told TPM — which is why the Hobby Lobby case will set an important precedent for the “religious freedom” arguments that would be applied.

Some precedents do already exist. For instance, the rationale behind the court’s decision last year to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor could spell trouble for those more ambiguous statutes, according to Gesnick.

"The majority opinion in Windsor seemed pretty open to the idea that the protection of traditional marriage could be interpreted as a cloak or a disguise for animus,” he explained. “They could certainly treat these state cases in the same way that they treated DOMA and simply jump to the conclusion that it’s merely motivated by animus and a desire to harm same-sex couples.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) during her State of the State address in January

Whatever precedent is set by the Hobby Lobby decision, expect a surge in litigation by gay right advocates if states pass any of the pending anti-gay discrimination bill. For gay rights advocates, the ideal test case would likely involve a same-sex couple being denied a service under one of these laws and facing some kind of burden in remedying their situation, Gesnick said. To give one simplistic example: A same-sex couple living in a rural town wants to get married but the only local wedding photographer (or baker, etc.) refuses to serve them, forcing them to either re-locate their wedding or spend additional money to hire an out-of-town business.

Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle, law professors at George Washington University, have argued that a test could be established by which a court can determine if the exercise of religion places a burden on another and is therefore unconstitutional. And the Hobby Lobby case, they argue, gives the Court an opportunity to establish that test.

"They take that as a premise and say, ‘Well then anybody can claim an exemption or can force the government to come forward with a compelling interest just basically by raising their hand, no matter how implausible the claim seems,’" Gesnick said. "They suggest that the escape hatch is to provide a similar kind of standard on the back-end, in terms of burdens to third parties."

"If there is even a modest burden to third parties, then that is the way to cabin this constitutional Pac-Man that threatens to allow religious people to become a complete law unto themselves."

H/T: Dylan Scott for Talking Points Memo

There could be more Arizona SB1062-style anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws put into play if SCOTUS rules favorably towards Hobby Lobby in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby (a case that has nothing to do with LGBT issues, but everything to do with contraception, birth control, and abortion issues). 
It’s the main SCOTUS ruling to watch for in June, just like what DOMA/Prop 8 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act were last year. 


H/T: Dana Lieblson at Mother Jones



Is Victoria Jackson asshole of the day for wanting to change the 1st Amendment to ban Islam?

Victoria Jackson believes many mosques are terrorist training camps. She named the one in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

When I asked Victoria Jackson if she believes in freedom of religion, she said,…