A Monumental Shift in Ideology with Respect to Religious Freedoms
The current Supreme Court session came to a climatic end this past week with decisions on religious freedom. These decisions come on the heels of a contentious shift within the Supreme Court on First Amendment issues over the past few years. The central issue coming out of these recent cases centers on finding an intricate balance between religious freedoms and protecting the interests of individuals.
The decision handed down by the Supreme Court in Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. changes the landscape with regards to how the Court views religious freedom within the corporate sphere. This decision allows, for the first time, for-profit organizations to assert specific rights found under the 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). As Justice Alito pointed out in the majority opinion,
Under RFRA, a Government action that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise must serve a compelling government interest, and we assume that the HHS regulations satisfy this requirement. But in order for the HHS mandate to be sustained, it must also constitute the least restrictive means of serving that interest, and the mandate plainly fails that test. (Schwartz, 2014)
What is strikingly clear at this point is that the religious freedoms found in RFRA are now being made available with little distinction between a non-profit religious organization and a for-profit corporation.
While the majority in this case hold the assertion that this ruling will not open up the floodgates to new litigation from corporations seeking to protect their religious beliefs from different medical practices or sexual orientation, dissenters to the ruling argue that any corporation could potentially discriminate based on their own religious beliefs. As Justice Ginsburg pointed out,
In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs. (Schwartz, 2014)
What has also resurfaced in this debate is the contentious issue surrounding corporate personhood. This fiercely debated topic began its discourse in the Citizens United case and it continues to harbor a litany of opinions from both sides.
This contentious battle between the exercise of religious freedoms and protecting the interests of individuals is no closer to being resolved. The gap has widened even more with the recent Supreme Court rulings. What will be interesting to see is how these rulings will play out politically in the 2014 midterm elections. Both parties have a compelling interest to advance the ideologies they adhere to. However, doing so might be harder to accomplish with a Supreme Court so entrenched in political posturing.
Schwarts, John. (2014, June 30). Between the Lines of the Contraception Decision. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/30/us/annotated-supreme-court-hobby- lobby-contraception-decision.html