, Newburyport, MA


July 2, 2014

Editorial: Two high court rulings stand for individual rights

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions Monday upheld the right of individuals to act according to their consciences, without interference from outside parties claiming some nebulous “societal interest.”

The 5-4 split along ideological lines in both decisions shows the precarious status of individual rights in our times.

The more broad-reaching of the two decisions, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., held that closely held, for-profit corporations cannot be required under the Affordable Care Act — better known as “Obamacare” — to provide contraceptive services free of charge in violation of their religious beliefs.

The ruling is limited in its scope, applying only to corporations owned by just a few individuals — “closely held.” In these corporations, the company and its owners are virtually indistinguishable and so, the majority ruled, the companies are able to hold religious beliefs.

Under Obamacare, employers are required to provide health insurance to employees. Contraceptive services of several types, including abortifacient medications, must be available free of charge. Private, nonprofit religiously affiliated organizations had previously won an exemption from the contraceptive mandate.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the mandate violates the principles of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that passed the Senate by a 97-3 vote. That law prohibits the federal government from taking any action that burdens the religious freedom of individuals. The majority ruled that in closely held corporations such as Hobby Lobby, the same principle applies.

Alito noted there are other ways the government could provide contraceptive services to women employed by objecting companies, such as supplying them through the insurers directly or through third-party administrators.

Note that, despite the “war on women” nonsense coming from opponents of the decision, no woman is prohibited from seeking or using these contraceptives. The ruling merely states that certain companies cannot be compelled to pay for them over their religious objections.

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