Not only did the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby US Supreme Court Decision give corporations religious rights that only individuals had under the 1st amendment, but the decision confirmed the religious have extra-consitutional rights. It’s all because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed in 1993.
Dave Niose, from the American Humanist Association, explains:
You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. The court unambiguously said that, in considering whether someone’s religious freedom is being violated, it may ignore traditional constitutional limits and instead invoke a much higher standard that, in its opinion, is required by statute. Because of this higher statutory standard – under the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – the court’s 5/4 majority ruled that for-profit corporations may exercise religious objections to deny birth control coverage to female employees.
The court repeatedly emphasized that its decision results from the higher standard of religious freedom required by RFRA. “By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this court has held is constitutionally required,” Justice Alito wrote. (Alito, p. 17) “RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection.” The definition of religious freedom under RFRA, Alito said, should be understood as “an obvious effort to effect a complete separation from First Amendment case law.”
The RFRA was passed back in 1993 because some Native Americans had been denied unemployment after losing their jobs for smoking peyote in a religious ceremony.
At the time, I remember secular groups complained about the RFRA because it would establish rights for religious people ABOVE what was required by the Constitution and they warned about what we finally saw with the Hobby Lobby decision – that religious beliefs would trump equal protection under the law.
The Hobby Lobby decision also created a two tier health standard with women’s health being treated differently then everyone else’s. A woman’s right to choose and access to free or low cost birth control can be taken away if the religious has a sad….
This result is what happens when a law is made too vague and made in a climate that believes religion isn’t generally harmful. Religion being allowed to get between a woman and her doctor is harmful.
We haven’t seen a case of an atheist or atheist group using the RFRA to get out of some law, but if atheists or Islamic groups try I can bet non-Chrisitian groups would not be allowed these special new rights.
There have been several recent court cases where an atheist feeling sad about a religious practice didn’t get the practice stopped. One case even said that just being exposed to the practice isn’t a violation of the 1st amendment, yet in Hobby Lobby, the mere idea of an employee using the company health plan to purchase birth control would be a violation of the RFRA.
My head hurts.
The good news, as David Niose notes, is that since the Hobby Lobby decision was based on the reading of a law, it would be easier to change it. I would like to see it repealed or add an amendment that would not allow religious beliefs to be placed above the rights of other people.