Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation, is exempt from the legal requirement to cover certain contraceptives as part of its health insurance plan for employees because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”.
Never mind that it’s unclear how a corporation can hold religious beliefs. Never mind that its alleged beliefs are based on an incorrect understanding of how the contraceptives in question actually work. Never mind that the contraceptives in question have medical uses besides birth control. Never mind that this company voluntarily provided cover for some of those contraceptives until 2012, as well as investing in companies that make them. The Supreme Court has decided that this corporation counts as a person with sincerely held religious beliefs, and allowed it to impose those beliefs on thousands of employees.
The decision is alarming in its own right, but it also sets a dangerous legal precedent. Already there are another 82 corporations hoping to drop birth control coverage from their insurance plans; the dissenting Justices note that the arguments made by the Court could apply equally to employers who claim their religious beliefs are violated by health coverage of vaccines or blood transfusions, or by anti-discrimination laws. As Justice Ruth Ginsburg points out in the dissent, “No tradition, and no prior decision under RFRA, allows a religion-based exemption when the accommodation would be harmful to others—here, the very persons the contraceptive coverage requirement was designed to protect”.
In short, not only do corporations count as “people”, but their right to free expression of religion trumps the rights of actual people.