On Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled out a section of the Affordable Care Act, declaring family-owned businesses do not have to offer employees contraceptive coverage if it conflicts with the owners’ religious beliefs.
Arguments have been made to outline how it is yet another example of legally endorsed sexism handed down by the federal government.
With this comes the incredible double standard played by advocates of this ruling. Whereby those on the right, who have tirelessly worked to etch out ‘Obamacare’ for intruding on the privacy of patients and their doctors, these same people have placed the federal government, a body they consider “too big” and “overreaching”, between a woman and her physician.
Hobby Lobby, the main plaintiff in the case, filed suit against the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2012. A chain of arts-and-crafts stores owned by Christian billionaire David Green, the company opposed regulations requiring them to provide emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs) to employees.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, at a 5-4 majority, has decided that some Americans are able to redefine the First Amendment, forcing their beliefs on others simply because they receive a paycheck.
While the majority’s ruling is specific only to “closely held corporations” – where five or fewer individuals control more than fifty per cent of the stock, such as family-owned enterprises– “closely held” organizations make up more than 90 per cent of American businesses, employ 52 per cent of the labor workforce and have huge revenues, with the top 224 corporations bringing in over $1.6trillion in 2013.
This puts millions of Americans in a position where the beliefs of their employers could sideline their own needs, effectively creating hundreds of quasi-theocratic businesses.
Employees of Hobby Lobby, and the numerous other corporations with similar ideologies, sign on to work for the company and not adopt an alternative lifestyle.
If, prior to the ruling and the ACA regulations, legal contracts between employer and employee dictated workers must accept the beliefs of owners then that would be a different scenario. But this decision has given employers the chance to enforce spiritual doctrine on others who did not ask for it.
And now a risky precedent has been put into place.
Today, a family-owned business doesn’t want to offer contraception, believing it to be morally wrong, to their employees. What’s to stop a Jehovah’s Witness-run corporation from refusing to cover a blood transfusion because it goes against their beliefs?
What happens when someone changes their job between not just the numerous Christian sects, but across Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu owned companies?
There’s also the point that many small businesses could make claims based on religious teachings in a bid to save money from the already controversial ‘Obamacare’ legislation.
The First Amendment reads that the government shall not adopt a single religion, nor will it hinder the beliefs of some for the favor of others’. Yet the Supreme Court has reduced the impact of the Amendment, allowing business owners to force their views onto citizens all because they receive a paycheck.
Once more in its 200 year history the United States is having trouble understanding the concept of “religious freedom”.