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Opinion: Supreme Court should protect employees’ freedom of religion

Should your employer’s religion affect your life?  That’s up to the Supreme Court, as they have agreed to hear Sebellius v. Hobby Lobby Stores.

Hobby Lobby is a chain of craft stores whose owners object to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that their health insurance plan provide contraception to women.  The owners of Hobby Lobby feel that this provision violates their freedom of religion rights, because they believe that certain methods of birth control are tantamount to abortion.  They refused to comply with the Act’s contraception mandate, and the government sued them.

Although the high court will have the final say, employees as well as employers have a right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment.  What’s more, the arguments put forward by Hobby Lobby are flawed.

In 2010, the Supreme Court found in Citizens United that the government could not ban political advertising by corporations because it violated their First Amendment freedom of speech.  Taking things a step further, now the owners of Hobby Lobby say that their corporation is entitled to freedom of religion.  The problem with such reasoning is that by definition a corporation is a legal fiction, designed to exist separately from its owners.  The benefits of forming a corporation include tax breaks, bankruptcy protection, and limited personal liability.  Hobby Lobby’s owners want their business to have the benefits of a corporation and the full religious rights of a person.  It would go against years of established business practice if Hobby Lobby were allowed to have the advantages of both.

Hobby Lobby’s website states that they are committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, and Hobby Lobby’s owners are entitled to religious freedom in their own lives.  Yet why should they be allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their workers, by denying coverage for contraceptives?  Surely the rights of employees are just as important as those of employers.  It would be troubling if the Supreme Court found that the religious views of a few (the owners of a corporation) outweighed those of their employees, many of whom might not have other employment options.

The question of whether corporations have religious rights is important to HispanicsResearch by Planned Parenthood has found that 57 percent of Latinas aged 18-34 have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control.  U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that women are 40 percent of the Latino workforce, and that Latinos are more likely than other workers to have jobs in the private sector.

Still, some Latinos have sided with Hobby Lobby.  Reverend Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference believes that the company is being forced to “abandon conscience” by the Affordable Care Act.  He’s missing the bigger picture.  The Affordable Care Act already has an exemption for religious organizations; Hobby Lobby is a private, for-profit business corporation and should be treated like any other business.  Our government has a compelling interest in making sure that all women can access health care, including contraception.  And as numerous medical professionals point out, the contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby objects to do not, in fact, cause or facilitate abortion.

Consider the potential consequences of a ruling for Hobby Lobby.  There are religions that object to blood transfusions, psychiatry, and organ transplants; could employers of these faiths then deny coverage for such procedures to their workers?  What about employers who objected, on moral grounds, to providing substance abuse treatment or HIV testing?  On a broader level, a ruling for Hobby Lobby would open the door to corporations evading federal law – and that is certainly not a desirable policy outcome.

The Supreme Court should honor the intent of Congress and rule against Hobby Lobby.  Not only do all women deserve equal access to contraceptives, all employees deserve their full freedom of religion rights.

Opinion: Supreme Court should protect employees freedom of religion   raul reyes nbc final1 e1370809324282 politics NBC Latino News

NBC Latino contributor Raul Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. 

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