In 2014 the Supreme Court handed down the infamous Hobby Lobby decision which allowed religious employers the right to deny their female employees birth control. The right-wing hailed the decision and “Christian” employers all over the country started joyfully denying women access to contraceptives. The only thing those employers had to do was fill out a form or write a short letter informing the federal government that they were invoking the “right” the misguided ruling afforded them and they’d be exempt from the birth control mandate. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, apparently it wasn’t easy enough for the vapid, women-hating, right-wing Christian employers, because they sued again; but this time one of their very own conservative judges threw them out of court.
East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell is a group of cases that were consolidated as one and they all involve religious employers who want to deny their employees contraception. Although this is already their right under the SCOTUS ruling, they all have a problem with the guidelines that they have to follow in order to deny the basic medical care: they don’t want to submit the paperwork. When a company doesn’t want to offer the birth control that their archaic rules for social control, they are required to submit the paperwork mentioned above and then the federal government works with an independent insurance company to provide the employees access to birth control. The plaintiffs in this case, claimed that by submitting the paperwork to the federal government, they became facilitators for the birth control they don’t believe in, in a show of incredible self-centered pettiness.
When the case worked its way to the 5th Circuit of Appeals it landed in Judge Jerry Smith’s lap and the attorneys for the plaintiffs probably rejoiced. Judge Jerry Smith is a Reagan appointee with deeply conservative views. In fact, he is so conservative he once denied a man’s death row appeal even though the man’s lawyer slept through most of the trial. This is a judge who called feminists “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.” So when the judge handed down an opinion that protected women’s access to contraceptives and basically told the plaintiffs to get over themselves, it is a BIG deal.
Judge Smith used the right-wing’s much-loved federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to rule against the religious employers. When Smith applied the RFRA rule that the federal government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” to the plaintiff’s case, he found that they did prove that the federal government was in violation of the law.
“Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing or facilitating access to contraceptives,” Smith explains in the judge panel’s unanimous opinions. “Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties.” Specifically, the plaintiffs object to the federal government working with an insurance administrator to provide contraception to certain workers. But the law does not “entitle them to block third parties from engaging in conduct with which they disagree.”
He also said that if he were to rule in their favor, it would pave the way for all sorts of nonsense:
“Perhaps an applicant for Social Security disability benefits disapproves of working on Sundays and is unwilling to assist others in doing so,” Smith explains. “He could challenge a requirement that he use a form to apply because the Social Security Administration might process it on a Sunday. Or maybe a pacifist refuses to complete a form to indicate his beliefs because that information would enable the Selective Service to locate eligible draftees more quickly. The possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA, intended for them to be.”
There will, of course, be an appeal to the Supreme Court, because the right is fixated on their war against women. These religious employers don’t really care about Jesus, they care about punishing women for having sex. It is the same mentality conservatives have when they go on and on about being “pro-life.” They aren’t actually “pro-life” because if they were, they’d do everything they possibly do to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thus reducing the need for abortions. They would also support all of the social programs in place to take care of babies after they are born, but they hate those programs too. This is how we definitively know the “war against women” is just that: a war. Religious conservatives want women to be punished for their “scandalous” sex lives; it doesn’t matter to them that birth control also treats a number of painful disorders, like endometriosis. The fact that one woman may take those pills or have that IUD implanted in order to prevent a pregnancy is enough for them to want to get rid of it.
Luckily, for women, now that a judge as conservative as Smith has thrown them out on their ears, it is unlikely the Supreme Court will have to hear their endless complaints anytime soon- until the right regroups and comes up with another excuse to strip women of the power to choose.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.