Nearly all parents attempt to teach their children from a young age that every one of their decisions in life will have consequences; no matter how inconsequential they may seem at the time. It is no different for politicians and, more importantly to Americans, Supreme Court justices. In fact, Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that Supreme Court decisions “exercise a kind of hydraulic effect.” He meant that even if the decision’s authors assert that their rulings will have limited impact, the cases will invariably have a profound influence on American society sometime in the future.
Americans are witnessing the profound and dangerous impact of the High Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to dismantle the 1st Amendment’s religious clauses and exempt religious devotee’s from adhering to state and federal laws. In writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the ruling was ‘very narrow in scope‘ and would have a very limited impact on Americans other than empowering religious employers to force their religion on their employees. However, within two weeks the Vatican-5 expanded that ruling as a portent that the Hobby Lobby decision would soon have a very profound impact on Americans’ lives; something Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned was going to happen.
In writing the dissenting opinion in Hobby Lobby, Ginsburg put the so-called “limited impact” ruling nonsense into proper perspective and said that the Vatican-5 effectively ruled that religion trumps all other laws. The Jurist said that the Hobby Lobby ruling was a “decision of startling breadth, ventured into a minefield” and argued strongly that “the majority turned the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into a protean tool for all sorts of evasions;” many pundits and legal experts distilled her entire dissent into “the conservative Court opened the floodgates of religious imposition on America.” Republicans in Indiana quickly made use of the “protean tool” to give religious bigots legal license to discriminate at will against, according to the law, “any person” they believe are sinners and violate their religious freedom. There is no mention of gays, LGBT, or same-sex couples in Indiana’s law; any person of any religion, race, or gender can be discriminated against with the full legal protection of religious freedom law.
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The Hobby Lobby ruling answered the question conscience clause advocates have asked since the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed in 1993; “when do religious convictions allow individuals or businesses to excuse themselves from legal obligations like adhering to equal and civil rights laws or providing medical care?” That question was answered last year in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and it is the driving force behind the rash of legal discrimination laws about to sweep 23 Republican states across the nation. Remember, the crux of the Vatican-5’s ruling was that the faithful are exempt from following any laws on religious grounds whether they are ensconced in the nation’s founding document or federal and state legal statutes.
That horrendous Hobby Lobby decision began opening the gate for the religiously observant to claim privileges that are unavailable to anyone else, and it started within a week of the ruling being handed down. Now the floodgates are wide open and there is no recourse except for decent Americans and businesses to wage economic warfare on bigoted Republican states with extreme prejudice. Even though Justice Alito claimed the scope of the ruling was very narrow, the Papal-5 effectively dismantled the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the 1st Amendment that puts the guilt of the flood of license to discriminate laws solely on the High Court’s conservatives. Why? Because there are no longer any Constitutional equal rights protections that are not subordinate to a person of faith’s religious exemption to disregard the law. It may be why, a year after the Hobby Lobby ruling, the lawmaker behind the Arkansas license to discriminate measure, Republican Bob Ballinger, said that “The reality is what we’re doing here is really not that remarkable;” or illegal or unconstitutional because religion.
The Indiana law, like the recently passed Arkansas law and those proceeding through 23 other state legislatures, is likely the product of religious Republicans’ attempt to thwart same-sex marriage and rally their religious base around “the issue” god hates going into the 2016 election cycle. It is why several Republican presidential hopefuls have come out in support of the Indiana law and defended Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s signing a clearly religious law aimed at legalizing discrimination against a wide range of Americans; a law that was unlikely to pass constitutional muster prior to Hobby Lobby.
Last year when Arizona passed ‘license to discriminate’ legislation, the overriding opinion was that it would be struck down as unconstitutional if it ever became law. The Indiana law is a mirror image of the Arizona legislation that passed the legislature only to be vetoed by then-governor Jan Brewer over a budget dispute. Like the Arizona legislation, Indiana’s law explicitly exempts “a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or any other entity” from legal ramifications associated with discriminating against “any person” they believe violates their religious freedom. It is important to remember the word gay is not a part of the Indiana law; anyone can be the target of discrimination with absolute legal protections as long as religious freedom is cited. The High Court made those kinds of laws constitutionally protected.
That protection was an overriding question before Hobby Lobby, and one opponents and supporters of Arizona’s law asked before the Supreme Court ruling. Since Arizona’s legislation, like Indiana’s and now Arkansas’, do not cite a specific group as a target of discrimination, many people asked “what about religious individuals who say that they have objections to conducting business with gay people or immigrants? Will they be excused from honoring the nation’s anti-discrimination laws?” Although that issue appeared to be unresolved prior to the Hobby Lobby ruling, it is resolved now and it is why 23 states have religious laws making their way through Republican legislatures.
In no small part the expansion effects of Hobby Lobby are due to the efforts of several evangelical and Catholic groups; particularly a so-called conservative legal group, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. It began dedicating itself to expanding the reach of the Hobby Lobby decision immediately after the ruling was announced. Obviously, with Indiana’s law, Arkansas’ recently passed legislation, and similar laws progressing in a couple of dozen other states, the Becket Fund is seeing the fruits of its labor realized in a very big religious way. And for all the people that continue shouting the license to discriminate laws are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling says otherwise; religious liberty trumps all constitutional protections.
Americans do not get to vote on Supreme Court jurors, but they do elect the religious Republicans pushing the laws legalizing discrimination as a result of the High Court’s ruling. The people of Indiana, Arkansas, and twenty-plus other Republican states knew they were voting for ‘socially-conservative’ Republicans that made no secret their intent was enacting laws to punish residents that did not fit their bible-thumping real American mold. Frankly, the people of Indiana who will suffer the economic consequences of their bigoted legislature and governor deserve what they get. Because if they had listened to their parents warning that their decisions have consequences, they would have voted differently, if they even bothered to vote.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.
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