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March 25, 2014 1

The Hobby Lobby Case — It’s Not Okay To Discriminate In The Name of Religion

This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argu­ments in two con­sol­i­dated cases where own­ers of for-profit, sec­u­lar cor­po­ra­tions chal­lenge the fed­eral Afford­able Care Act’s (ACA) con­tra­cep­tion man­date as a vio­la­tion of their reli­gious free­dom rights.

The names of the two cases are Sebe­lius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Con­estoga Wood Spe­cial­ties Corp. v. Sebe­lius. hobby lobby

The ACA requires cov­ered employ­ers to pro­vide a full range of pre­ven­ta­tive health care and screen­ing ser­vices, includ­ing con­tra­cep­tives and birth con­trol, in their employer-sponsored health care plans. Refer­ring to the con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age as a “man­date” is actu­ally a mis­nomer because employ­ers have the option of pay­ing a mod­est tax instead of pro­vid­ing com­pre­hen­sive health insur­ance. And that tax is often less expen­sive than pro­vi­sion of employee health insurance.

How­ever, rec­og­niz­ing reli­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties sur­round­ing con­tra­cep­tion and abor­tion, the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion worked hard to accom­mo­date dif­fer­ing reli­gious views. The so-called ACA con­tra­cep­tive man­date does not apply to non-profit reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions (like a church or syn­a­gogue) and religiously-affiliated orga­ni­za­tions (like church-affiliated schools) can eas­ily opt out of the require­ment by sign­ing and fil­ing a one-page form.

The fervently-religious own­ers of Hobby Lobby, a large chain of arts and crafts stores that employs over 13,000 peo­ple at over 500 loca­tions, brought suit against the man­date because they object to cer­tain forms of con­tra­cep­tion. The Tenth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals upheld their chal­lenge, decid­ing that the fed­eral Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (RFRA) applies to cor­po­ra­tions and that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ACA con­tra­cep­tive man­date sub­stan­tially bur­dens the own­ers’ reli­gious practice.

The own­ers of Con­estoga Wood, a com­pany that employs hun­dreds of peo­ple that makes cab­i­nets and other wood­work­ing prod­ucts, sim­i­larly object, on reli­gious grounds, to pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tives to their employ­ees. How­ever, in this case, the Third Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, in con­trast to the Tenth Cir­cuit, decided that for-profit sec­u­lar cor­po­ra­tions can­not engage in reli­gious speech and are there­fore not pro­tected under the RFRA.

RFRA requires the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to demon­strate a com­pelling inter­est where it “sub­stan­tially bur­dens” a person’s reli­gious exer­cise. ADL strongly sup­ported the enact­ment of this 1993 statute, which was intended to be a shield against reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion. But in this case, the own­ers of Hobby Lobby and Con­estoga are attempt­ing to use RFRA as a sword – giv­ing them license to impose their reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers. That under­mines the pur­pose of the statute, and turns reli­gious free­dom on its head. There is no doubt that RFRA could not have been enacted into law if it had been antic­i­pated that it would later be used by cor­po­rate own­ers to thwart anti-discrimination laws or the reli­gious free­dom of com­pany employees.

ADL joined a coali­tion brief with a diverse group of more than two dozen faith-based orga­ni­za­tions. The brief, pre­pared by Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, argues that apply­ing the con­cep­tion reg­u­la­tions to the cor­po­ra­tions does not sub­stan­tially bur­den reli­gion. For-profit cor­po­rate enti­ties do not prac­tice reli­gion. And because the legally dis­tinct cor­po­ra­tions would actu­ally pay for and pro­vide the com­pre­hen­sive health insur­ance, any reli­gious bur­den on their own­ers is min­i­mal. Not to men­tion that the own­ers have the option of their cor­po­ra­tions pay­ing a mod­est tax instead of pro­vid­ing com­pre­hen­sive insurance.

The brief fur­ther asserts that Amer­i­cans do not lose their reli­gious free­dom when they estab­lish for profit busi­nesses. But the reli­gious beliefs of these employ­ers should not be imposed on third par­ties – their employ­ees – and the own­ers’ rights can­not trump the reli­gious rights of their employees.

It would be hard to over­state the stakes for reli­gious lib­erty and equal­ity in these two cases. The Amer­i­can work­force is highly diverse. Allow­ing sec­u­lar cor­po­rate own­ers to restrict access to afford­able con­tra­cep­tives on the basis of reli­gion dis­crim­i­nates against women and lim­its their equal­ity and inde­pen­dence. Approval of this action by the Court would also be a grave blow to reli­gious free­dom in this coun­try – and open the door to the specter of work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion and for-profit com­pa­nies deny­ing cov­er­age for other essen­tial med­ical ser­vices that some own­ers might deem reli­giously offen­sive, such as blood trans­fu­sions, psy­chi­atric care, and vaccinations.

 

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March 7, 2014 0

ADL-Led Coalition Defends The Hate Crimes Prevention Act

The Anti-Defamation League has filed an ami­cus brief in a case pend­ing before the Sixth U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a broad coali­tion of civil rights, reli­gious, edu­ca­tional, and law enforce­ment orga­ni­za­tions in sup­port of the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Mathew Shep­ard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act (HCPA).  This is the first coali­tion brief defend­ing the Act, and it attracted some of the most promi­nent and impor­tant civil rights, reli­gious, law enforce­ment, LGBT, edu­ca­tional, and pro­fes­sional orga­ni­za­tions in the country. HCPA-brief

The cases involve Samuel Mul­let Sr., the self-appointed Bishop of an Old Order Amish sect in cen­tral east­ern Ohio, who ordered more than a dozen of his fol­low­ers to engage in vio­lent beard-and hair-cutting attacks against church mem­bers who had rebelled against his dom­i­neer­ing control.

The vic­tims of these religiously-motivated crimes were being pun­ished: they had not obeyed Mullet’s edicts and “strayed from the true path.”  Mar­ried men in this Amish com­mu­nity typ­i­cally grow long beards and the women grow their hair long and keep it cov­ered under a prayer bon­net.  Beards and hair are sacred sym­bols of their reli­gious identity.

The assailants invaded the vic­tims’ homes or lured them into the open before attack­ing them. They forcibly cut their hair and beards using a vari­ety of imple­ments, includ­ing horse shears and elec­tric beard trim­mers. The attack­ers took pic­tures of their assaults to com­pound and memo­ri­al­ize the vic­tims’ shame, and then buried the camera.

The attacks inspired fear through­out the Amish com­mu­ni­ties in the region. In Sep­tem­ber 2012, Mul­let and his fol­low­ers were tried and con­victed of fed­eral con­spir­acy, kid­nap­ping, and vio­lat­ing the HCPA. U.S. Dis­trict Judge Dan Aaron Pol­ster elo­quently described the defen­dants’ actions dur­ing sen­tenc­ing: “you did more than just ter­ror­ize, trau­ma­tize, dis­fig­ure your vic­tims, you tram­pled on the Con­sti­tu­tion, and par­tic­u­larly the First Amend­ment which guar­an­tees each and every Amer­i­can reli­gious freedom.”

The defen­dants, Mul­let and his fol­low­ers, are now appeal­ing the case, chal­leng­ing their con­vic­tions and sen­tences on the grounds that the HCPA is uncon­sti­tu­tional, a vio­la­tion of the First Amend­ment, and that the HCPA can­not apply to a case in which the per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims are of the same religion.

The ADL coali­tion brief coun­ters each of these arguments.

First, the brief argues the fact that the per­pe­tra­tors iden­tify as the same reli­gion as the vic­tims does not shield them from cul­pa­bil­ity under the HCPA: “To exempt intra-faith crimes from the HCPA would ignore many acts of bias-motivated vio­lence that that dev­as­tat­ing effects on communities.”

Sec­ond, the brief clearly demon­strates that the HCPA does not infringe on the defen­dants’  reli­gious free­dom rights:  “Appel­lants are, and always have been, free to speak their minds and free to wor­ship in any way they wish.  They sim­ply are not free to tar­get vic­tims for vio­lent crimes because of religion.”

The list of orga­ni­za­tions join­ing ADL and the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Human Rights on this brief includes American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Com­mit­tee, Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties, Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­sity Women, Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, Asian Amer­i­cans Advanc­ing Jus­tice, Bend the Arc: A Jew­ish Part­ner­ship for Jus­tice, B’nai B’rith Inter­na­tional, GLSEN, Cen­tral Con­fer­ence of Amer­i­can Rab­bis, Hindu Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion, Human Rights Cam­paign, Human Rights First, Inter­faith Alliance Foun­da­tion, Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League, Jew­ish Coun­cil for Pub­lic Affairs, Jew­ish Women Inter­na­tional, Mus­lim Advo­cates, National Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple, National Cen­ter for Trans­gen­der Equal­ity, National Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women, National Dis­abil­ity Rights Net­work, National Orga­ni­za­tion of Black Law Enforce­ment Exec­u­tives, National Orga­ni­za­tion for Women Foun­da­tion, National Urban League, OCA – Asian Pacific Amer­i­can Advo­cates, Peo­ple For the Amer­i­can Way Foun­da­tion, PFLAG National, Police Exec­u­tive Research Forum, Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund, Sikh Coali­tion, Soci­ety for Human­is­tic Judaism, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Together, South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, Union of Reform Judaism, UNITED SIKHS, Women of Reform Judaism, and Women’s League for Con­ser­v­a­tive Judaism.

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