Hobby Lobby’s crafty discrimination against women

06/30/2014 4:42 PM

07/01/2014 12:18 AM

Remember the ladies, Abigail Adams told her husband when urging him and other patriots to fight for women’s rights.

That was in 1776. Over 200 years later, we are still forgotten. The U.S. Supreme Court got it dangerously wrong on Monday when it said Hobby Lobby and other “closely held corporations” don’t have to cover contraception for their employees’ health insurance.

Equality is non-negotiable. I don’t care how closely held Hobby Lobby is. It is not a person. It cannot hide behind religious freedom. It has no official religion. Sure, it’s a craft store with Christian values, but customers go there to get picture frames and puffy paint, not spiritual dogma. I don’t care how cheap the yarn gets.

Hobby Lobby has said religion is optional for its thousands of employees. “If they don’t believe in God, we love them where they are,” Dianna Bradley, the company’s director of chaplain services, had told the Wall Street Journal.

Apparently this love is conditional. Hobby Lobby believes a woman’s reproductive rights are at the mercy of the religious beliefs of the owners, the Green family. They believe an insurance plan that covers an IUD, Plan B and similar contraceptives conflicts with their anti-abortion beliefs.

Wait a minute. The IUD is long-term birth control that can prevent implantation. Plan B is meant to prevent fertilization and implantation. That’s birth control, not abortion. But when it comes to male contraceptives, Hobby Lobby has no problem. Hey, fellas, you work for them and you want a vasectomy? It’s covered.

The court said its 5-4 decision applies only to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, not vaccinations, blood transfusions and other medical procedures that some religions prohibit. The court says the decision is no cloak for employers looking to use religion to practice discrimination.

But still, this decision will open the door for challenges surrounding hot-button issues like same-sex marriage. Remember Kansas House Bill 2453? State lawmakers attempted to deny same-sex couples services and benefits on the grounds of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” You really think this win doesn’t give them some muscle?

Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations (defined as no more than five people owning half the stock) now have the right to claim religious freedom.

In making these big businesses people, the court has devalued employees’ rights as individuals. It forgot that women are people. The 14th Amendment gave us equal protection under the law. Everyone should have the right to the Affordable Care Act and the contraceptives it covers.

In court, Hobby Lobby relied on 1993’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects individuals’ beliefs, but it never proved it suffered a substantial burden, as the act requires. The birth control method of a cashier or stockworker does not affect the owners’ Sunday morning prayers.

Besides, documents filed with the Department of Labor show the company’s 401K plan invests more than $73 million in funds with companies like Teva and Pfizer, producers of the very contraceptives the owners claim offend their religious freedom.

Basically, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has just been made into a weapon, allowing corporations to have beliefs and force them on others.

The act “was intended to be used as a shield, not a sword,” one of its architects, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, said in a statement Monday. “No matter how sincerely held a religious belief might be, for-profit employers … should not be allowed to wield their beliefs as a means of denying employees access to critical preventive health care services.”

It was meant for people, not companies, he told MSNBC. “That never came up. It was completely obvious we weren’t talking about that.”

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. The government must not forget the ladies. When it comes to equal rights, it must remember everyone.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or email josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.

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