Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Huge Can of Worms

That's what the Supreme Court may have opened up with its recent decision in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby case. The court has made conflicting statements regarding the narrowness of the ruling, so it's not completely clear yet how the whole thing will shake out. But it looks like as in the case of the Oklahoma monument, the folks at The Satanic Temple will be doing a lot of the shaking.

The group, which "facilitates the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty," argues that states' "informed consent" laws violate its religious freedom. "An increasing number of states have passed 'informed consent' laws, requiring that women seeking abortions be subjected to state-mandated informational materials that are often false or misleading," the group wrote on its website. "We believe that personal decisions should be made with reference to only the best available, scientifically valid information."

Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the group, said that the Hobby Lobby ruling supports their initiative. "While we feel we have a strong case for exemption regardless of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact," Greaves said in a statement. "Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state­ mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them."

The narrowest possible interpretation of the Hobby Lobby ruling, extending the exemption already offered to religious non-profits to privately held corporations where all the owners share the same specific religious beliefs, would not be the disaster some activists have claimed. At the same time, the idea that this can apply to beliefs that are clearly scientifically incorrect is a problem because that opens the door to all sorts of nonsense, no matter how limited the ruling finally turns out to be.

The specific nonsense in this case is that the owners of the Hobby Lobby corporation claim to object to birth control pills and emergency contraception because they abort fertilized eggs. They don't. The drug they're thinking of is RU-486, which actually terminates pregnancies and has never been covered under the Affordable Care Act. The confusion over emergency contraception is that it only works because that sperm remains viable in a woman's body for up to seven days, and high-dose birth control medication blocks ovulation during that time. But apparently Hobby Lobby's owners either don't know or don't care that they're wrong.

The issue, then, that The Satanic Temple is going after here is whether or not "religious beliefs" are allowed to trump facts. "Informed consent" laws in most states mandate information so incorrect that they might as well be telling patients that monkeys could fly out of their butts during the procedure. Presumably the hope is that this case will make it to the Supreme Court as well and give them a chance to clarify the ruling. It also would put the conservatives on the court into something of a bind. Either they will be forced to clarify that the most limited reading of the decision is what they intended, or they will have to find in favor of the Satanists.

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