The contraception mandate might be heading for the Supreme Court. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that Hobby Lobby—that store with all the ribbons—could claim “religious freedom” to deprive employees of earned contraception benefits, and the Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to review the case.
At the core of the case is the question of whether employers have a broad right to opt out of any federal law for religious reasons. Which is why the 10th Circuit’s ruling should concern everyone, not just women who enjoy having their birth control covered. The conservative-dominated Roberts court could use this case as an opportunity to gut all sorts of federal worker protections, which would negatively impact even people who think contraception is a terrible sin.
For anyone who would like to believe that employers would only use the religious exception to deprive their employees of very specific health benefits like contraception, think again. Already there’s an attempt to cite religion as an excuse for union-busting. As reported by Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress, Duquesne University of Pennsylvania is fighting an attempt by United Steelworkers to unionize adjunct faculty at the school, with religion as an excuse:
According to legal documents filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Duquesne originally acquiesced in its employees’ desire to hold a union election, but it later went back on this agreement, citing a 1979 Supreme Court decision exempting “church-operated schools” from parts of federal labor law. The breadth of that decision is now at issue before the board. The university cites one court decision allowing a school like Duquesne to resist unionization so long as it “holds itself out to students, faculty and community’ as providing a religious educational environment.” The union cites other court decisions establishing that only faculty members with an “obligation . . . to imbue and indoctrinate the student body with tenets of a religious faith” are unable to unionize under the 1979 decision.
If the Supreme Court grants private companies and even corporations the right to challenge the federal government on minimum health care benefit standards, what other kinds of federal labor protections will employers start deciding that Jesus doesn’t like? Some on the Christian right have already sculpted religious arguments for why their faith forbids the minimum wage and unions. If the Supreme Court grants employers the right to opt out on contraception, you can bet that the legal eagles on the right will start looking for other federal employee protections that offend all those businessmen with delicate religious sensibilities.