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Originally published Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 4:58 PM

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Editorial: Justices put mistaken faith in Hobby Lobby contraceptives ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court writes a legal creed for exploiting religious values as a corporate management strategy.

Seattle Times Editorial


THE U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that for some businesses, religious life begins at incorporation.

With a 5-4 split vote, the high court said that closely held for-profit companies could invoke First Amendment religious freedom to avoid paying for four types of contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

The dissenting justices marveled at the breadth of legal implications and religious invocations this interpretation can be expected to invite.

Lower courts had said the religious liberties defense by Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties did not apply to companies simply in business to make money.

The court majority said that flies in the face of modern corporate law, and the rights that accrue to closely held companies with limited stock owned by a small number of people. That includes, but is not limited to, family-owned companies.

This was about health care, and a woman’s right to all elements of that coverage and protection, including reproductive health care.

This Taliban-light ruling targets females by letting employers’ religious values dictate what is right and proper for their female employees’ health care — this, but not that.

The majority opinion said the ruling does not provide a shield for employers who cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.

The minority hardly found any comfort in that statement. The invocation of religious offense is a litany only limited by the imagination of defense attorneys.

In this case, the attorneys for the craft stores and cabinetmakers bolstered their religious argument with their interpretation that intrauterine devices and morning-after pills constituted abortion.

If, as the court ruling suggests, the government could pay for contraception, why stop there? Is this a sly invitation for a Medicare-like single-payer system? That is as improbable as Congress agreeing to expand birth-control coverage.

When the court talks about moving ahead without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, it is inviting ever more creative claims of violations.

This case is an insult to women, and personal religious liberty. How will this license to impose one’s religious beliefs on others be applied next?

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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