It strikes me that the right-wing Christianists celebrating the Hobby Lobby decision are an unimaginative crew. This might be expected of people who combine dogmatic literalism with a myopic inability to perceive the difference between their own culturally induced bigotries and God. The degree to which they are shooting themselves in the foot is revealed in a New Yorker commentary by Steve Coll, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.
Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, is a closely held, profit-making enterprise organized on religious principles. One of its principles, announced as public policy in July, 2012, is that children should not be inoculated against polio, because the vaccines violate God’s law. So sincere are the Taliban’s religious beliefs that its followers have assassinated scores of public-health workers who have attempted to administer polio vaccines in areas under Taliban control or influence. …
… If the Pakistani Taliban, aided by clever lawyers, organized a closely held American corporation, and professed to run it on religious principles, might its employees be deprived of insurance coverage to inoculate their children against polio? And would the Supreme Court, by the five-to-four decision issued on Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, endorse such a move?
Coll acknowledges that before this could happen the Taliban would have to jump through some challenging hoops, such as their status in the U.S. as a terrorist organization. And the part about assassinating people would touch on other areas of law, unrelated to the Affordable Care Act, that might get them into trouble even in “murder at will” states like Florida. However, maybe if they came out for open carry … well, that’s another argument.
Here’s the meat of Coll’s argument:
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court’s conservative majority, sought to evade such thought exercises by predicting, without evidence, that there will not be “a flood of religious objections regarding a wide variety of medical procedures and drugs, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions.”
Why not? Is it because the justices do not intend to extend their reasoning to companies that hold religious views less proximate to their own Christian beliefs? Or because the judges believe that they can enforce what they imagine to be a rational or permissible resistance to reproductive rights for women, while blocking what they might see as irrational resistance to transfusions and vaccines?
In other words, as Dahlia Lithwick argued the other day, either the justices intend to show favoritism to “mainstream” (in their minds) Christianity, denying other religions the same privileges, or they think women’s reproductive health is a less serious medical issue than, for example, blood transfusions. There really is no other way to interpret Alito’s argument.
The Right argues that these medical procedures would not be blocked, because the employees could still obtain them and pay for them out of their own pockets. But here in Real World Land, the cost of such things could be out of reach, especially for employees making minimum wage. Add several children, and you might as well tell the employees they can buy a gold-plated yacht while they’re at it. Also, it’s not just the Taliban with issues about vaccines, is it?
And here’s the central issue:
Perhaps the Supreme Court’s majority cannot fully imagine that religiously motivated litigants—Muslim, Christian Scientist, Hindu, or other—as qualified and as American as the Hobby Lobby owners might ultimately use Monday’s ruling to enforce beliefs far outside of the decades-long campaign of Christian evangelicals and Catholics to limit the reproductive rights of women. If so, that is another failure of their reasoning, one that exposes what really seems to have gone on in this decision: four longtime adherents to the deeply rooted conservative movement to limit or ban abortion in the United States, joined by a fifth willing to defer to them, saw in the Hobby case an opportunity to advance their cause incrementally, and they reasoned to achieve that end—not, as their opinion claims, to construct a sustainable framework of religious resistance to public-health laws.
The Right is perpetually screaming that we are about to be placed under sharia law. Sharia law, as I understand it, is interpreted many different ways, and I don’t want to join into demonizing it here. But the Right doesn’t seem to appreciate that the Hobby Lobby decision potentially opens the door to exactly this — a company with Muslim owners could potentially enforce its Islamic views on the employees.
The pre-Hobby Lobby understanding of separation of church and state would have prevented sharia law from being involuntarily applied to non-Muslims in the U.S. That’s not quite so clear now. It seems to me that the only way the HL decision wouldn’t open the door to all kinds of religious impositions on employees is if the courts set themselves up as arbiters of what religious beliefs are legitimate and which not, First Amendment be damned.
I like this bit:
Because campaigners against reproductive rights have successfully mainstreamed their views within institutions like the Supreme Court, those views no longer seem radical even to many of their opponents. The Taliban have not similarly legitimized their philosophy because they are so indiscriminately violent and repressive, among other reasons. (Some religiously motivated radicals have assassinated abortion providers in the United States, but the gunmen are not commonly referred to here as terrorists.)
I argue from time to time that the only difference between our domestic right-wing extremists — and not just the religious ones — and Islamic terrorists is in degree, not in kind. Of course people who bomb abortion clinics or assassinate doctors — or even threaten to assassinate doctors — are terrorists. Here’s the dictionary definition of “terrorism”:
the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal
the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion
So, yes, many abortion clinic “protesters” are terrorists. But we can’t call them terrorists because their opinions have been “mainstreamed.” A group doing exactly the same thing to banks that the Fetus People do to abortion clinics would be called terrorists. No question. So clinic protesters are allowed to get away with terrorism because some courts, and much of the public, sympathize with their cause, not because they aren’t actually terrorists.
Bottom line, extremist right-wing dogmatic Christians get a pass, because they are “mainstream.” I suspect Islamic extremism got its first footholds in the Middle East the same way.