It’s crunch time for Hobby Lobby watchers: The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to deliver its ruling in the controversial case dealing with access to birth control within the next two weeks. As observers await the court’s verdict, the case continues to stir debate due to its drastic implications for women’s rights and religious liberty.On Wednesday, Americans United’s senior litigation counsel, Greg Lipper, joined representatives from fellow members of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice (CLJ), which unites faith-based and non-partisan organizations in defense of a robust wall of separation between church and state. Lipper appeared with Sara Hutchinson of Catholics For Choice (CFC), Nancy Kaufmann of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association (AHA) to deliver a congressional briefing on the potential consequences of a Hobby Lobby victory for real religious liberty.As Hutchinson explained, those consequences would be profoundly negative for most Americans. She said it’s “critical to remember” that Hobby Lobby’s religious liberty claims lack popular support, and added, “We firmly believe that contraception coverage protects women’s religious freedom.” She also took aim at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which supports Hobby Lobby’s argument.“The majority of 20 million Catholics are not represented by the USCCB,” Hutchinson stated. “Catholics believe that women’s conscience rights deserve respect.”The contrast between popular opinion and the rhetoric of partisan groups like the UCCSB, which claim to represent people of faith, emerged as a consistent concern for the groups present. Kaufmann, who stated that “advancing reproductive rights and religious freedom” were integral aspects of the NCJW’s historical mission, argued that a Hobby Lobby victory “would undermine a woman’s religious liberty to make a faith-informed decision about birth control.”She also said that people of color, who tend to be low-income as a result of racial inequalities, would be “disproportionately” affected by a ruling that limited contraception access – an outcome of great concern to NCJW and its allies.“We hope the courts uphold the religious liberty of all people,” she concluded.Speckhardt echoed that sentiment, noting the AHA’s interest in protecting the rights of non-theists. “True religious liberty must include the option to be non-religious,” he said. “It must not be used by those abusing it for partisan agendas.”
Religious minorities would be burdened by a Hobby Lobby victory, Speckhardt asserted, and he cited concerns that employers could deny access to other necessary medical procedures if religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act are broadened.Those concerns are shared by Americans United, as we’ve noted previously on this blog. Lipper, presenting Americans United’s position on the case, reiterated our objection to religious exemptions that actually violate the rights of others. Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, employers would be able to privilege their religious convictions over their employees’ – something we consider to be an egregious distortion of the principle of religious liberty.
Staffers in attendance at the briefing asked panelists about next steps after a Hobby Lobby victory; Speckhardt recommended legislative efforts to restrict the negative consequences of the ruling, although the nature of those efforts won’t be clear until the court actually hands down its opinion.What is clear, though, is that however the high court rules, the battle over the true definition of religious liberty won’t be ended with the verdict. And the CLJ, Americans United and others are prepared for a long fight.