2014-07-01 – “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” That is the provision of federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 USC 21B) that the US Supreme Court enforced in its ruling against mandatory contraception coverage in the Hobby Lobby case yesterday.
Now, there are many arguments against this ruling. They focus on two points in the statute: whether the burdening law furthers a compelling governmental interest and whether the law is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
I am not going to “relitigate” this case. What’s done is done. Instead, I’d like you to consider whether your religious beliefs are burdened by government.
For example: You pay taxes. Some of the money collected from those taxes goes toward war. Does this burden your religious belief?
In the (glorious) 1960s, a Quaker group drafted a prototype law that would have allowed individuals (and now, presumably, corporations) to pay their taxes to UNICEF rather than to the US treasury as a protest against military spending. Needless to say, the law was never taken up by Congress, much less passed.
But it’s a concept. Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act accomplish what the Quakers only hoped for?
Another example: If we had an active draft, you could legally avoid being drafted by becoming a conscientious objector.
Or how about government subsidies of oil companies? Does your religion allow you to support that?
You could come up with a raft of governmental actions and policies that you object to and file suit, now, in federal court because the action causes a substantial burden on your religious beliefs.
If your conscientious objection stems from religion.
If not . . . well, your conscientious beliefs are not protected.
Here’s the interesting thing, this law exempts religious people from the obligation to follow the law if the law substantially burdens them “even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
Despite all the hoohah, yesterday’s Hobby Lobby decision has a relatively limited scope. Most employers will keep their contraceptive coverage. Most employees will be covered. And hopefully, those who lose coverage will gain some savings on their health care premiums, that they can spend how they wish.
But what about the next suit? The Christian right has plenty of objections to governmental action. But the truth is, they aren’t the only ones. The religious left has objections, too. And the nonreligious need to test whether their conscientious beliefs can be protected under this law as well.
Is this just one more step in breaking up the polity of the United States?
Or does the possibility of individual (and corporate) nullification of US laws point toward a future in which politicians will need to be more careful in their legislation and more considerate of minority views?