July 8, 2014

Hobby Lobby Column

In 1868 the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. Aimed at providing equal rights to African American’s in the aftermath of the civil war, a segment of the amendment became known as the “equal protection clause.” That segment reads, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This past Monday, the United States Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores violated the terms of the equal protection clause – and affirmed the rights of corporations over those of ordinary citizens-- specifically women.

Hobby Lobby, an organization that has been noted for its implementation of religious views in its daily practices, opposed a Health and Human Services mandate under the Affordable Care Act that required employers’ insurance programs to cover twenty FDA-approved contraceptive methods, four of which can inhibit a fertilized egg from attaching to a woman’s uterus. Hobby Lobby invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 in claiming that the contraceptive mandate violated their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court held five votes to four that closely held corporations (A closely held corporation is one in which 5 people or less hold more than 50% of the control of an enterprise) can be treated as individuals under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and that as such the contraceptive mandate was in violation of their religious beliefs. What the Supreme Court neglected to consider was the religious liberties of those who are employed by corporations like Hobby Lobby. According to the IRS, over 90% of all corporations, commercial enterprises, partnerships, and sole proprietorships are “closely held corporations” that employ over 52% of the American workforce. This list includes large corporations like Cargill, Dell, and Koch Industries.

Americans who work hard to make ends meet are now subject to the religious beliefs of their employers. Corporations are not human beings but legal entities, it hard to swallow the fact that their rights trump the rights of actual people. For Women working at the corporations that invoke this ruling to avoid the contraceptive mandate, their employer’s religious rights will trump their own individual rights to make medical decisions for themselves.

As a woman of faith, I know the importance of spirituality and religious devotion in making everyday decisions. As a State Senator I know that my faith may not necessarily be the faith of those who work with and for me – and that’s okay. The thing that makes America the greatest nation on the face of the earth is its diversity of opinion. Men, women and children of all races, creeds and colors partake in our nation’s decision making process – a right protected by the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. Allowing corporations to curtail the medical options of their employees based on their religious beliefs is an attack on the religious liberty of everyone in this country.

In 2010, the Supreme Court released a landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (also passed by a vote of five to four) which held that the right to free speech applied to corporations and as such, limits on political expenditures of these corporations were unconstitutional. This decision allows for large corporations to drown out the voice of everyday citizens through endless and irresponsible spending. Now with the ruling in Hobby Lobby it seems that five Supreme Court Justices intend to grant corporations the right to tell Americans how to live their lives – who to vote for, what medical decisions to make, what religious beliefs to hold etc.

We must stand opposed to the notion that the American electorate can have the wool pulled over their eyes. We must oppose the privatization of “Big Brother” – wherein corporations can tell us what we may and may not believe.  In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers form the consent of the governed.” A few corporations do not constitute the consent of the governed; we cannot allow government to derive its power from them.

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