I’ve been trying, through hypotheticals, to explain some of my frustration with the Hobby Lobby decision. Luckily today’s WestClip brought a real-life example from D. Colo.
Hobby Lobby meet Jah Frederick Nathaniel Mason, III.
Hobby Lobby’s objection to contraception is that some contraception is really abortion which contravened the religious beliefs of their executives.
[T]he company’s mission, as they see it, is to “operate in a professional environment founded upon the highest ethical, moral, and Christian principles.” The company’s “Vision and Values Statements” affirms that [the company] endeavors to “ensur[e] a reasonable profit in [a] manner that reflects [the executives’] Christian heritage.” It is therefore “against [their] moral conviction to be involved in the termination of human life” after conception, which they believe is a “sin against God to which they are held accountable.” The [executives] have accordingly excluded from the group-health-insurance plan they offer to their employees certain contraceptive methods that they consider to be abortifacients.…[They object to the ACA because] it requires them to provide health-insurance coverage for four FDA-approved contraceptives that may operate after the fertilization of an egg.These include two forms of emergency contraception commonly called “morning after” pills and two types of intrauterine devices.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2764-65 (2014) (internal citations omitted). The problem with this is — whatever their faith* — they got the science wrong. The measures that the ACA covers — and that the executives fear — are not, in fact, abortifacients. As an L.A. Times article summarizes — quoting the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — neither IUDs nor “morning after pills” cause abortions.
So the “beliefs” of a legal fiction (the corporate entity) based on a scientific fallacy entitled the company to opt out of a law of general application.
OK, then. Let’s see how this works in practice for a real live human being with religious beliefs he is seeking to enforce in court. Take it away, Jah Frederick Nathaniel Mason, III:
Mr. Mason asserts nine claims based on his belief that the use of satanic imagery on the seals of government justifies his driving without a license because the seal on Colorado drivers’ licenses displays satanic images. He also apparently believes that, by following his religious beliefs in not carrying a driver’s license, he should not be charged with traffic offenses as a result.…[In addition], [h]e is suing the meter agent for issuing a ticket for a missing front license plate and calling the police, who had his car towed, despite his explanation that he considered himself to be a “religious sovereign and had conscientious objections to the image of mountains on the Colorado plates as they violate God’s commands.”
Mason v. Clear Creek Cnty. Sheriff, 2014 WL 4099326, at *2, *5 (D. Colo. Aug. 20, 2014). Sounds reasonable. Just about as scientific as the Hobby Lobby execs’ beliefs, and what’s the big deal of one guy driving without a license or license plate. Not even close to the burden on society of permitting a corporation to exclude coverage of an entire set of benefits for its entire female workforce.
Plaintiff cannot argue there is no legitimate governmental interest in requiring license plates on cars. Mr. Mason’s religious beliefs—whatever they may be—do not excuse him from complying with the State’s requirement that he display license plates attached to his car. See Colo.Rev.Stat. § 42–3–202(1)(a) (license plates to be attached to the front and rear of a vehicle); see also Colo.Rev.Stat. § 42–1–101 (licenses for drivers required). The requirement for attached license plates is valid and neutral—all Colorado drivers are required to have license plates on their cars. . . . Mr. Mason’s claims asserted against the unnamed Denver parking management meter agent will be dismissed as legally frivolous.
Mason, 2014 WL 4099326, at *5. He not only loses a case at least as well-grounded in religion and reality as Hobby Lobby, his case is deemed frivolous.
Given that the Supreme Court had already decided that individuals did not have the right to smoke peyote** or opt out of the social security system*** based on sincerely held religious beliefs, the sad take-away from Hobby Lobby is that legally-fictitious corporations in fact have greater rights of religious freedom that individual believers.
* Many have pointed out that, at the same time that Hobby Lobby was touting its Christian business principles in refusing to participate in a broad health insurance program that, based on the private decisions of insureds and their doctors, may result in use of contraception that Hobby Lobby believes to be — but in point of scientific fact is not — abortion, it is engaging in a wide variety of un-Christian business activities, including investing in companies that produce the type of contraceptive devices that it refuses to cover and purchasing massive quantities of cheap crap from China, which not only supports fairly un-Christian labor practices, but actively encourages actual — rather than imagined — abortion. This would be like an inmate insisting on a kosher diet while ordering sliced ham from the commissary.
** Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990).
*** United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982).