The U.S. Supreme Court's June 30 joint decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell is yet another disaster for separation of church and state. The ruling followed a May 5 opinion by the high court permitting municipal governments to open their meetings with prayers--even if most of those prayers are Christian. Those two decisions give Chief Justice John Roberts the dubious distinction of presiding over the worst term for church-state separation in recent memory.
Supreme Court opinions can be complex. The ruling in Hobby Lobby ran eighty-nine pages (including the powerful dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). A first read can sometimes be deceptive. It takes time to gauge the scope and effect of a high court ruling.
Thus, some people can be forgiven for initially assuming that the decision was fairly narrow and that the question of contraceptive access would be easily remedied. In the majority opinion, the justices seemed to imply as much.
But it's important to look below the surface. When we do that in Hobby Lobby, we can see that this is far from a narrow ruling; in fact, it's one that has the potential to generate much mischief in the years to come.
The owners of Hobby Lobby (a chain of craft stores headquartered in Oklahoma) and Conestoga Wood Specialties (a building supply firm based in Pennsylvania) don't oppose all forms of birth control on religious grounds. They oppose four devices and medications that they believe cause abortions.
As a matter of fact, the medications and devices in question don't cause abortion. But the owners of the two firms, in their scientific confusion, genuinely believe that they do, and to the Supreme Court that's all that matters. It is a sincerely held religious belief.
Nevertheless, a quick read of the opinion led some people to conclude that the Supreme Court had merely allowed the owners of certain corporations to opt out of providing these four forms of birth control.
Not so. The day after the Hobby Lobby opinion was issued, the court ordered several lower courts to reconsider rulings that had gone against firms owned by Roman Catholics who don't want to cover any forms of birth control, even pills. So let's be clear: under Hobby Lobby, your boss can remove any and all forms of birth control from the company healthcare plan if they offend his religion.
Some analysts claimed that there was an easy fix to the ruling: religious nonprofits (hospitals...