In Extremis

The Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled yesterday that craft-superstore chain Hobby Lobby could, on religious grounds, exempt itself from a federal law that required contraception be covered under employees’ health plans. It was a bad ruling, but an entirely unsurprising one given the five conservative Republican justices’ positions on the issues of “religious freedom” and corporate personhood.

The majority opinion, written up by Justice Alito with Justice Kennedy concurring, is as intellectually stimulating as a well-placed boot heel to the balls:

In our constitutional tradition, freedom means that all persons have the right to believe or strive to believe in a divine creator and a divine law. For those tho choose this course, free exercise is essential in preserving their own dignity and in striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts. … It means, too, the right to express those beliefs and to establish one’s religious (or nonreligious) self-definition in the political, civic, and economic life of our larger community.

It is not, however, our constitutional tradition to exempt people from obeying federal laws passed in the national interest on the basis of their beliefs. No right guaranteed by the constitution is guaranteed unconditionally. Ask the Mormons all about that.

But that’s neither here nor there because the problem with the majority’s ruling is much more provincial. Hobby Lobby was never made to pay for their employees’ contraception. They were made to set aside a certain sum of money for each employee, which would be deposited into a general fund managed and dispensed by a health insurance carrier. The minute that money leaves Hobby Lobby’s bank account, it is no longer Hobby Lobby’s money. Their interest or culpability in how that money is apportioned by the health insurance carrier is precisely fucking nil.

Never mind, of course, that Hobby Lobby is heavily invested Pfizer, which makes contraceptives, and imports the bulk of its products from China, where abortions are mandatory for anyone who becomes pregnant more than twice.


Meanwhile, in France, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a law that effectively bans Muslim women from wearing full veils in public. While the 2010 law does not explicitly ban Islamic garb, burqas and niqubs fall under the ban for concealing the wearer’s face. The law was submitted to the European Court in 2011 by a “devout Muslim woman” who complained the law was in violation of her religious rights.

Now, an argument could be made, I think, for banning facial coverings in the name of public safety (not a very good argument, mind you, but an argument nonetheless). But the European Court rejected this out of hand, writing:

In the Court’s opinion, in view of its impact on the rights of women who wished to wear the full-face veil for religious reasons, a blanket ban on the wearing in public places of clothing designed to conceal one’s face could be regarded as proportionate only in a context where there was a general threat to the public safety. The Government had not shown that the ban introduced by the Law of 11 October 2010 fell into such a context.

No argument here. But why, then, did the Court uphold the ban? Well, you better strap yourself in…

The Court was also able to understand the view that individuals might not wish to see, in places open to all, practices or attitudes which would fundamentally call into question the possibility of open interpersonal relationships, which, by virtue of an established consensus, formed an indispensable element of community life within the society in question. The Court was therefore able to accept that the barrier raised against others by a veil concealing the face was perceived by the respondent State as breaching the right of others to live in a space of socialisation which made living together easier. It added, however, that in view of the flexibility of the notion of “living together” and the resulting risk of abuse, it had to engage in a careful examination of the necessity of the measure at issue.


In other words, banning burqas and niqabs is not an infringement upon the religious rights of Muslims because not banning them makes people uncomfortable?



It’s funny. Here are two utterly batshit rulings on opposite ends of the religious freedom debate, all in one week. And they are both structured around the same thing: people’s feelings taking precedence over people’s rights.

Cowboy the fuck up, people. Seriously.


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