The Affordable Care Act contains a requirement that company health insurance which covers prescription drugs must cover contraceptive medication. Exemptions are provided for religious institutions where objection to contraception is part of their doctrinal belief. Twenty-eight states have similar mandates in their insurance laws and these have been upheld in court. In California Catholic Charities of Sacramento challenged the requirement and lost. When they appealed to the California Supreme Court, they lost again, and the United States Supreme Court has refused to hear their case.

Now Hobby Lobby stores have sued to have the exemption extended to their business, which is not a religious institution in the legal definition, because the owners object to contraception, forms of which they consider to be abortion (IUD's and the morning after pill).

In the past the courts have not granted exemptions to religiously neutral laws of general applicability simply on the basis of religious objections, but Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by an almost unanimous vote in 1993, essentially nullifying that practice on the grounds of a finding by Congress that neutral laws could substantially burden religious freedom.

Now the federal government is required to defend any action deemed burdensome to religious freedom as deriving from a compelling government interest and being the least invasive means possible for attaining that goal. In other words while Congress cannot make a law regarding the establishment of a religion, it can protect religious sensibilities by elevating religion in general to a privileged place in law. The RFRA was found unconstitutional in part in a case involving the Catholic Church because the law was interpreted as applying to states and municipalities, which exceeds the enforcement authority of Congress.

Given that six of the Supreme Court Justices are Roman Catholic, it seems quite likely that Hobby Lobby will prevail and that private for-profit companies will be able to ignore any provisions of law that it deems offensive to the religious sensibilities of the owners. Presumably business owners who object on religious grounds to blood transfusions can have them excluded from coverage.

I take this as another sign the country is moving to the right at a rapid pace. This is not good news for atheists.

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At least someone in congress is trying to counter the Hobby Lobby decision.

The bill, known as the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” is in response to a June 30 Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. In that decision, the high court voted 5-4 that certain closely held corporations have a religious freedom right to refuse to provide birth control in employee health-care plans.

“The Supreme Court thoroughly botched the Hobby Lobby case and has distorted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in pursuit of a reactionary agenda,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s up to Congress to set things right. This bill is a good first step.

The bill, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), states that an employer that provides a group health care plan “shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” that is otherwise required under federal law. The measure will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as well.

Americans United says the proposed legislation, while it may not be the ultimate solution to the high court’s misinterpretation of RFRA, is an important stopgap measure to ensure that millions of women don’t lose access to birth control merely because their bosses oppose it on religious grounds. [emphasis mine]

Americans United Announces Support For Legislation Designed To Blun...

You can contact your congress critters to support this legislation.

From Senator Udall's press release:

A broad coalition of lawmakers joined Udall and Murray in introducing the legislation today: U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Timothy Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

How interesting that there isn't a single Republican in the bunch!

In addition to the Senate, the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014 was also introduced in the House by Reps. Louise Slaughter, Diana DeGette, and Jerrold Nadler. (All Democrats.) This has other cosponsors as well.

You can contact your congress critters to support this legislation.

One way to find yours, with contact information, is through votesmart.org .

I'm contacting my congresscritters to urge that they cosponsor and support this bill. (Even though anti-choice Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is strongly anti-choice, and lauded the Hobby Lobby decision, his office still needs to hear from me and from like-minded Pennsylvanians.)

Calling your senators' and representative's offices is probably more effective than filling out their web forms. In fact, call both their D.C. and local offices; your "vote" will likely be counted twice.

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