On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States, a country widely regarded to value personal freedom, made a mistake which infringes on that widely touted promise yet again. The controversy was over whether religious freedom trumps health law, but that is to put it mildly and misses the complexities at hand. The Hobby Lobby Corporation, closely held by the founding family, believed that it had a right to deny its employees four kinds of popular contraceptives which its owners believed were akin to abortion. The plaintiff argued that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was very clear; a corporation of that scale had no choice based on any sort of guiding philosophy.
The court’s position? In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled that the family had every right to choose what contraceptives are available under employee benefits and which are not.
The problem with this decision is not that SCOTUS is finding in favor of the deeply held religious beliefs of a family. It is that they are deciding against what are supposed to be the equal rights of the employees to decide for themselves what are and are not “moral” contraceptives. In other words, the Justices Alito, Thomas, Roberts, Scalia, and Kennedy find that the religious choices of a corporation trump those of the people who work for it. This decision is a little too reminiscent of the infamous Citizens United ruling for comfort. Yet again, the Roberts court has found that corporations are people. And yet again, the Roberts court has found that these corporations have rights. And yet again, the Roberts court has decided amid a firestorm of reason and cries for humanity that the individual rights of a corporate “person” are more important than yours.
Unsurprisingly, the women of SCOTUS were furious; Ginsberg’s dissenting opinion, which is concurred by Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan, finds that such corporations have no right to restrict the medical access of female employees. It is simply not acceptable to claim a sort of First Amendment right over a person’s personal health decisions because of religious beliefs.
The problem is unfortunately bigger than this, though. The resolution of the Hobby Lobby case points to a symptom, not any specific illness—to a step, not an entire journey. A new fact of living in America is that it is a not-so-secret oligarchy and that a significant proportion of its populace is pretty pleased about it. They shouldn’t be. It is now a ubiquitous truth that in the land of free, freedom is reserved for those who have enough money to pay for it. Those people are the defiant one percent of the nation which has been quietly consuming almost all of the increases in income experienced since 1980. As the might of that economic minority grows, so too does its claims of rights in the face of a suffering middle class and underclass who have been subversively convinced to believe in the purity of greed in the name of religious calling.
So when the court decides that the “religious beliefs” of a corporation overrule a general right to determine one’s own path through life, when a small group of private citizens can be granted control over people who, at its simplest, differ only in the balances of their bank accounts, when money is chosen above individuals and simple rights, then tyranny has once again become reestablished. Only this time it’s different. This time the people still have an illusion of control because they are still allowed to have a choice. A choice between two carefully funded politicians who would never dare to cross the status quo that determines their funding.
The results of this corporate coup d’état are just beginning to be felt. Hobby Lobby was about employee benefits. In the past, a battle has already been about current wages, on which people cannot live even a frugal life. The future effects will include increasingly distant politicians, closely merged, multinational corporations offering poor wages and high prices, fewer rights, and more work. Welcome to the new corporate America.
Alito, Samuel, Kennedy Anthony, Ruth Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, and et al. “Supreme Court of the United States, BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL. v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC., ET AL. .” Supreme Court of the United States. N.p., 30 Jun 2014. Web. 1 Jul 2014. <http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-354_olp1.pdf>.
Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporations.” New York Times. (2014): n. page. Web. 1 Jul. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/us/hobby-lobby-case-supreme-court-contraception.html?_r=0>.
Kennedy, Anthony, John Stevens, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas Clarence. “Supreme Court of the United States, CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION .”Supreme Court of the United States. N.p., 21 Jan 2010. Web. 1 Jul 2014. <http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf>.
Stone, Chad, Danilo Trisi, Arloc Sherman, and William Chen. “A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends in Income Inequality.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. N.p., 17 Apr 2014. Web. 1 Jul 2014. <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3629>.