Religion Hub




Supreme Court Limits Obamacare's Contraception Coverage

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

6a00d8341c730253ef01a73dd60f4d970d-300wiIn the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting today in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby:

In the Court’s view, [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent. 

"Havoc" is one mild, understated way to put it. I would add "dangerous," "unprecedented," and "violent."

BrYbC7YCMAAOCqRWhen last we heard about Obamacare, the number of enrollees had exceeded certain Administration expectations. But if you recall, these enrollments were only allowed to happen after the Supreme Court concluded that the central piece of the law -- the individual mandate that requires people to have insurance -- is constitutional.

Today, Obamacare is back in legal news. In a 5-4 decision in Hobby Lobby, the Court held that family-owned corporations can opt out of generally applicable laws for religious reasons. You can read the full decision here. I previewed the legal issues back in March because this case has dangerous implications for the future of LGBT equality.

This case is a so-called religious freedom challenge to a federal law. The Affordable Care Act requires that health care plans provide their customers with certain contraceptives and contraceptive services free of charge. Hobby Lobby, a closely-held (that is a fancy legal term for "family-run") chain of retail arts and crafts stores run by a deeply religious family, took issue with providing its employees with contraceptives that it believed violated the owners' religious beliefs. The company challenged the requirement, arguing that corporations can have religious rights, should be able to sue to protect those rights, and that Obamacare violated its freedom of religion.

Many of us are concerned about our health care and the health care of others. This decision impacts directly all of us who work for companies that provide health insurance: granted, today's decision only applied to private, closely-held companies; but there is little in the opinion to prevent expansion down the road.

However, more to the point, Hobby Lobby sets a dangerous precedent in the gay rights universe. Gay equality laws -- from marriage equality laws in New York to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the U.S. Senate -- have religious exemptions. States that gained marriage equality by judicial decision still have vocal opponents whose arguments (perhaps pretextual) are based on religious freedom. They say they should not be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding, or rent out their catering halls for gays, or provide any services to gay couples because they oppose gay marriage. If Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts company that has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, can exempt itself from a federal law aimed at providing equal access to all, then perhaps a baker or a florist or a limousine driver can do the same to us.

Religious exemptions and religious freedom arguments can grow to a point where they endanger equality. Our community cannot simply be satisfied with Windsor, the post-Windsor marriage equality winning streak, and the prospect of an impending second shot at the Supreme CourtHobby Lobby could undo much of it.

AFTER THE JUMP, I discuss the Hobby Lobby decision, its dangers, and its limitations.

Continue reading "Supreme Court Limits Obamacare's Contraception Coverage" »


Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In Narrow Decision

HobbyThe U.S. Supreme Court today ruled today that businesses can object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage to its employees as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, The Chicago Tribune reports. The decision came down to a 5-4 vote, with the justices dividing along ideological lines:

In a majority opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the court said the ruling applies only to the birth control mandate and does not mean companies would necessarily succeed if they made similar claims to other insurance requirements, such as vaccinations and drug transfusions.

In the majority opinion, Alito indicated that employees could still be able to obtain the birth control coverage via an accommodation to the mandate that the Obama administration has already introduced for religious-affiliated nonprofits. The accommodation allows health insurance companies to provide the coverage without the employer being involved in the process.

Under the accommodation, eligible non-profits must provide a "self certification", described by one lower court judge as a "permission slip" authorizing insurance companies to provide the coverage. The accommodation is itself the subject of a separate legal challenge.

As Towleroad contributor Lisa Keen previously pointed out, The Hobby Lobby case is of particular concern from an LGBT perspective because some have believed that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could later be used by employers seeking exemptions on religious grounds from providing health benefits to LGBT employees “such as coverage for the same-sex spouses or partners of employees, reproductive services for lesbian couples, testing and treatment for men at risk of HIV infection, [and] transgender treatment for people with gender dysphoria.” 

Stay tuned for Towleroad legal analyst Ari Ezra Waldman’s in-depth analysis of the Hobby Lobby ruling later today.

You can find previous coverage from Ari on Hobby Lobby and why this ruling matters HERE and HERE

(Image via Twitter)


140 Religious Leaders Petition For Exemption From Obama’s Pending LGBT Executive Order

IRFA letter on anti-discrimination in the workplace

On June 25 a group of about 140 religious leaders and advocates for religious freedom sent a letter to President Barack Obama to try and secure an exemption for faith-based groups in a pending executive order which aims to protect LGBT government contract workers from discrimination.

Barack obamaOrganized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, the letter does not endorse the pending order as the best way to curtail work discrimination. It also recommends the religious freedom protections that the Senate accepted in November 2013’s Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill, but requests additional protections.  

Although the House announced it would not vote on the legislation, the June 25 letter suggests that Obama adopt some of the religious exemption language from the bill.

The letter states that religious organizations that contract with the government to provide such services as overseas relief and development with USAID:

"Often are the best-qualified applicants for federal contracts or subcontracts. It would be counterproductive to bar them from offering their services to the federal government simply because of their legally protected religious convictions; it would be wrong to require them to violate those legally protected convictions in order to be eligible to receive federal contracts. Their exclusion from federal contracting would be diametrically opposed to the Administration's commitment to having 'all hands on deck' in the fight against poverty and other dire social problems."

However, a growing coalition of critics is urging Obama to drop the practice of allowing religious groups to hire and fire based on a person’s faith when they receive federal money, saying Obama is reneging on a promise he made in 2008. Obama, who originally campaigned against the Bush-era discrimination policy, said in 2008:

“If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion."

Some of the religious leaders who signed the letter include: Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Christian Hispanic Leadership Conference and Hispanic Evangelical Association; Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland-A Church Distributed; Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Additionally, the letter was signed - personally,rather than on behalf of their organizations - by the presidents of numerous Christian colleges, including Colorado Christian University, Houghton College, Biola University, Calvin College, Moody Bible Institute, and Denver Seminary.


Eastern Mennonite University Defers Decision On Hiring of Gay Faculty

Emu

Eastern Mennonite University' in Harrisonburg, Virginia announced Saturday that it would defer its decision on hiring gay faculty while the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) community continued its “discernment of human sexuality,” InsideHigherEd.com reports:

Emu2A formal reversal would have reportedly been a first for any member institution for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, although other Mennonite colleges are having similar conversations about allowing the hiring of openly gay faculty members...

Discussions on Mennonite campuses reflect ongoing debate within the Mennonite Church itself. Because the denomination has a strong focus on social justice issues, many members view its non-recognition of same-sex marriage as incompatible with its identity as a whole. Others still believe strongly and exclusively in the biblical definition of marriage: a union between a man and woman.

Currently, faculty at EMU can be gay but have to be celibate and accept certain tenants upheld by EMU to obtain and keep employment:

During the interview process, candidates have to disclose any objections they have to the Mennonite Church’s Confessions of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which defines marriage as a covenant for life between a man and a woman. Upon hire, faculty members also have to sign the university’s Community Lifestyle Commitment condemning premarital sex (same-sex marriages are not recognized by the state of Virginia).

Back in the fall, the university’s ban was temporarily lifted as EMU created a ‘listening period’ to engage with its students, faculty and ‘vested’ members—parents, alumni and donors—to help guide its decision. EMU President Loren Swartzendruber said it was a rift in opinions between the students/faculty, who supported lifting the ban, and the vested members, who opposed it, that led to the deferment of any action on the subject. 


Harlem Hate Church Gets New Sign Attacking Homos, Maya Angelou, Ali Forney Center

ATLAH Church Sellout Sign

Harlem's ATLAH World Missionary Church - the one run by "stone the gays" (but not really) pastor James David Manning - has put up a new sign on their marquee condemning "pinch nose sellout negros" and "demonic homos."

It's a remarkable coincidence - or not - that the church is right next to the Apollo Theatre, which is presently giving tribute to the late Maya Angelou. Also remarkably (non)coincidental, as Joe Jervis points out, is that the June 2nd meeting advertised is the night of Harlem's newly-opened Ali Forney Center's rally for more beds for homeless LGBT youth.


African-American Pastors Join Fight Against Marriage Equality In Michigan: VIDEO

Ministers

A group of conservative African-American Christian ministers filed legal briefs on Wednesday in support of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, joining an even larger coalition of Christians who have also taken legal action to keep bigotry alive in the Great Lakes State, according to USA Today:

Representing potentially millions of worshippers in the state, the Michigan Catholic Conference, the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a national coalition of Baptists, Lutherans, Mormons and evangelicals led by Catholic bishops filed three separate briefs Wednesday in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The briefs back Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in his efforts to defend the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, which was overturned earlier this year by a federal judge in Detroit.

Michigan's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was passed in 2004 but struck down in March of this year by Federal Judge Bernard Friedman (a Reagan appointee). 

At a rally held on Wednesday by by African-American ministers at First Baptist World Changers International Church in Detroit, Pastor Roland Caldwell of the Burnette Inspiration Baptist Church of Detroit issued a call to action to opponents of gay marriage:

“We’ve got to tell the preachers that are standing up for homosexuality that either you are with God are you are against Him. And if you are against God you are against me. We cannot promote any more preachers that are promoting sin. We cannot promote any more pastors that are allowing homosexuals to run their church…we must step back and tell them like my cousin told a preacher, ‘You are my enemy!’…and now the fight is on!”

The legal brief filed by the black ministers on Wednesday took issue with comparisons between the battle for LGBT rights and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, in particular comparisons that have been made by judges between the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia that legalized interracial marriage and the question of marriage equality:

Comparing the gay rights movement to black civil rights is "ignorant and myopic," said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law center, who attended the rally in Detroit to show support.

Hateful comments were liberally on display at the rally in Detroit, with gay marriage being broadly denounced by the assembled group of ministers:

Gay marriage would "destroy the backbone of our society," said the Rev. Stacey Swimp of Flint, Mich. 

"We love everybody, but we don't love the (gay) lifestyle," said the Rev. Rex Evans, pastor of Free Will Baptist Church in Ypsilanti, Mich. He said there's a "small group of people trying to destroy the foundation" of the U.S. "It's time to take our nation back."

You can watch a video of the rally and Pastor Caldwell's speech, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "African-American Pastors Join Fight Against Marriage Equality In Michigan: VIDEO" »


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