Tony Norman: Supreme Court now predictably appalling

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In the end, no one really expected the current majority of the U.S. Supreme Court to do anything other than what it did in its Hobby Lobby ruling. Given the ideological drift of a court nominally run by Chief Justice John Roberts, but ideologically dominated by Justice Antonin Scalia, no other outcome was possible.

But something can be both anticlimactic and sickening at the same time. The court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of a corporation’s right to object on religious grounds to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate doesn’t begin to detract from its central absurdity — that a corporation has religious scruples that must be respected in the first place, even if it comes at the expense of female employees.

Placing a woman’s rights in the workplace secondary to whatever results from corporate soul-searching is a stunning development in the history of American labor.

The court’s conservative majority knows that it is already saddled with the perception that it is a bastion of knuckle-dragging reactionaries, so it has taken pains to assure its legion of critics that its ruling is “narrow” and won’t apply to vaccinations or blood transfusions, no matter what the “religious” sentiment of corporations happens to be at the moment.

That’s not how religious groups that hailed the decision interpret what happened. Faith Driven Consumer, a lobbying firm that claims to represent the interests of 46 million “faith-driven consumers” who spend $1.75 trillion annually, issued this statement:

“We’re encouraged today that the Supreme Court reaffirmed our essential constitutional rights, both as Americans and people of faith. Corporations do have the right to pursue policies that are aligned with their religious views, and are once again protected from the forced adoption of practices that violate their conscience. We regret that this ruling applied only to closely held corporations and eagerly await the day that the Court reaffirms this same protection for all corporations, regardless of structure.”

Of course, no one believes a court dominated by right-wing ideologues is going to be able to resist being consistent with its own peculiar precedent once a blood transfusion case actually makes its way to the docket.

John Neurohr, spokesman for the liberal advocacy group Keystone Progress, got it right in his organization’s reaction to Monday’s ruling:

“The Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision today in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (et al) opens the floodgates to religious critiques, despite the majority’s claim that the decision does not apply to religious objections to blood transfusions. We agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent that says this is a ‘decision of startling breadth.’”

Mr. Neurohr’s statement continued: “It is outrageous for a business to claim, as they have in this case, that birth control coverage amounts to sinful complicity with their employees’ purportedly sinful conduct, meaning business owners’ ability to withhold to their own religious tenets is encumbered substantially if they must maintain even indirect connection to their employees’ independent decisions.

“In the end, the way this case was argued by Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs, we will see a dramatic shift in how the government can limit religiously prompted conduct in a business setting. This is a dangerous precedent in a country where we have both freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion.”

The court may have convinced some rubes that it is following a “strict interpretation” of the Constitution as once understood by the nation’s 18th century founders, but if you’re a woman whose own conscience must now take a back seat to an abstract entity’s alleged religious convictions, it is simply judicial activism by another name. We’re now in a weird constitutional zone where the religious persuasion of the company’s founders is imputed to the company and its employees.

If Anton LaVey, the libertine founder of the Church of Satan, had made the same arguments in an amicus brief that Hobby Lobby did for the right to discriminate based on a corporate entity’s religious conscience, it would’ve been laughed out of the court as some sort of sinister joke.

It’s interesting that the only time corporations ever cop to having any semblance of a conscience is when the reproductive options of women are at stake. Where is a corporation’s finely tuned religious convictions when it comes to protecting the environment, ensuring the integrity of our food supply or paying workers a livable wage?

If a corporation has any religion at all, it involves a golden calf and the commandment to maximize profits at all costs.

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631 Twitter @TonyNormanPG.


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