Dodson: Ahlin’s hostility obvious
Writing about the Hobby Lobby decision, Jane Ahlin (column, July 6 Forum) appears to have let her hostility toward religious freedom and the Catholic Church get in the way of any attempt to actually understand the law and the decision.
The Supreme Court’s opinion did not deem corporations to be persons under the Constitution. The court merely concluded that the language and history of a statute passed by Congress made it applicable to closely held corporations. It was hardly a sweeping opinion granting expansive corporate rights.
That statute is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 after Congress passed it almost unanimously. It says a federal policy cannot “substantially burden” a person’s religious freedom, unless it serves a “compelling state interest” in a way that is “least restrictive” of that freedom.
Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration decided that it had the authority to force family businesses to provide contraceptives at no cost to its employees, even if the family had religious objections to providing such services. Hobby Lobby and the other challengers objected to just four of the 20 required contraceptives because those four may destroy an embryo after fertilization has occurred.
Ahlin claims that the court “dismissed scientific studies” showing that the four drugs work to prevent fertilization. She overlooks that the Obama administration conceded that the four drugs may result in the destruction of an embryo. It is not the role of the Supreme Court to bring up and examine facts that are not in dispute.
The court did not decide whether the administration had a “compelling interest” in requiring employers to provide cost-free access to the four drugs. It did not have to make that decision because the burden imposed on the companies for not providing the four drugs was clearly substantial – fines in the millions of dollars – and because the government had a variety of other methods at its disposal to provide women the four drugs at no cost without requiring direct involvement by the companies.
Ahlin wants to blame the Supreme Court majority – and its five Roman Catholics – for an outcome she does not like, but it was Congress that overwhelmingly passed RFRA and the Obama administration that so clearly disregarded it when it conjured up the mandate.
Ahlin’s lack of understanding of the law might be excusable if it was not coupled with her not-so-thinly-veiled hostility toward the Catholic Church. According to her, the only explanation for the ruling is that it was decided by five Roman Catholics “partial to religious views that mirror their own.” Anti-Catholicism, America’s last acceptable prejudice, rears its ugly head again. If you don’t like the outcome, blame the Catholics. If you don’t understand the law, blame the Catholics.
Rather than allow religious freedom for Catholics and other like-minded individuals (the owners of Hobby Lobby are not Catholic), Ahlin rejects religious freedom for all, claiming that all cases about religious freedom are “really about sex and who has the power to control it in society.” That would come as news to anyone who has looked at the cases brought under RFRA, most of which have nothing to do with sex. Worse, to caricature anyone who tries to protect their religious freedom rights as being only concerned with sex and power is grossly unjust to people of faith.
Dodson, Bismarck, is executive director/general counsel, North Dakota Catholic Conference.