Phoenix and the SCOTUS Ruling that Private Corporations Can Exercise Religious Beliefs
East façade of the Supreme Court Building. (Franz Jantzen)
The United States Supreme Court sided today with Hobby Lobby and other privately owned corporations that argued they should not be required to provide access to contraceptives in employee health plans -- as mandated by the Affordable Care Act -- if doing so violates their closely held religious beliefs.
The 5-4 split favors privately owned corporations' rights to sidestep the healthcare law because following it would infringe on their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. That law prohibits government from substantially burdening "a person's exercise of religious," and federal law defines a "person" as a corporation as well as an individual.
So there it is -- a very similar argument to the one made not long ago by Cathi Herrod, head of the Center for Arizona Policy.
Herrod wanted to push through a state law that would provide business owners legal cover if they chose to deny services to particular patrons (i.e., gay people) if these individuals or their lifestyles clashed with shop owners' closely held religious beliefs.
It was dubbed by critics as a way to legalize discrimination.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, the driving force behind the city's anti-discrimination ordinance, says "for the exact same reasons that I opposed SB1062 so strongly...I believe the Supreme Court got the Hobby Lobby case wrong."
The City of Phoenix has "passed tough ordinances banning discrimination against the LGBT community, and I feel strongly that private business should not be able to override city policy protecting people against discrimination. And I'm concern the Hobby Lobby case could lead to that."
Rebecca Wininger, public-policy chair of Equality Arizona, an LGBT advocacy group, says, " [We] need to be careful about today's ruling because it was extremely narrow."
She says the community has to be "make sure people don't take this [ruling] to the extreme. We're coming down to the line where you have, on one side, freedom for religious expression, and on the other side, people who want to use their beliefs as religious dominance over others. We have to make sure they don't cross that line."
Herrod, in a statement posted on the Center's website, says, "We will be analyzing this decision to determine what else can be done to strengthen religious freedom protections in Arizona."
This decision underscores the purpose of Arizona's Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- to balance a compelling governmental interest with every American's freedom to live and work according to their faith. The Court's ruling exemplifies how the CAP-supported SB 1062 would have protected individual liberty, while protecting against unlawful abuse of religious freedom.
Like the proposed SB 1062 would have affirmed, the Supreme Court said today that no one should be forced to surrender their First Amendment religious-freedom protections merely because they start a business.
SB 1062 was passed by the state Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer amid an uproar from the public and business community.
The failed proposal essentially gave the right for a business owner to decide, for example, that they would not serve a gay couple because homosexuality conflicts with their religious beliefs. It was intent on unraveling local laws passed by some Arizona cities, including Phoenix and Flagstaff, that prohibit discrimination against gay or transgender individuals.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg disagreed with the majority of her SCOTUS colleagues. She wrote:
In the Court's view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation's religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on thirdparties who do not share the corporation owners' religious faith--in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congressenacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court's judgment can introduce, I dissent.
Got a tip? Send it to: Monica Alonzo.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.