Sisterhood Blog

Why Jews Should Care About Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

By Sarah Seltzer

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The hallowed principle of religious freedom is centered around protecting the minority from being persecuted by a religious majority, as well as granting all individuals and denominations (including us nonbelievers) the right to freely practice and express beliefs.

What it isn’t meant to do, on principle, is allow bosses to subject their employees to their own whims, be they religious or social. Yet that’s unfortunately what’s up in the air in the court case where a few dozen for-profit corporations are suing the government, post-Obamacare, so they can be exempt from offering contraception coverage to their employees. Not contraception, mind you. Just health coverage that includes benefits for contraception. Because their “religion” renders them opposed to any non-procreative sex.

That’s right: these corporate honchos hate the idea of women on the pill — for whatever reason — so badly that they’re going all the way to the Supreme Court so they can avoid contributing to any insurance premium that might end up possibly covering contraception.

They claim it’s corporate religious freedom. In fact, it is blanket discrimination against women. As Simi Lichtman’s previous post for the Sisterhood — “Feminist, Orthodox, Engaged and on the Pill” should remind us, many women use the pill for many reasons. And many, many Jewish women of all persuasions use contraception, as it’s not explicitly forbidden in most circumstances.

In a blog post for The Nation, Jessica Valenti wrote correctly that the impetus for this kind of lawsuit is much more about sexism and squeamishness than about religious freedom, noting, “When Sandra Fluke testified in favor for birth control coverage, she wasn’t criticized for trying to curtail religious freedom — she was called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’.” And as Irin Carmon found out when she interviewed the head of Eden Organics, another plaintiff in the suit, he was less interested in his own religious freedom and more interested in sticking it to Big Government.

All this is disturbing. But another point Valenti made should particularly hit home for Jews. She writes about the “slippery slope” that allowing employers’ religious beliefs to dictate their insurance coverage could lead to, potentially including Jehovah’s witness bosses refusing coverage for blood transfusions or surgery, or bosses who don’t believe in vaccination refusing to fund the measles shot for employees kids. It could get even worse:

Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, says these scenarios are real possibilities. “What if an employer believes women should be subservient and doesn’t believe in providing the same wage and hours for them as male employees?” She relayed one case where a private school denied health insurance to married women, because school management believed husbands are the “head of the household” and should provide for their wives.

Or for Jews, what if bosses don’t believe in circumcision? What if, sometime down the line, they don’t want to treat Jewish holidays as valid personal days? What if they prefer prayer to medicine? All these types of discrimination are possible if this suit goes the wrong way and opens a dangerous door. In fact Hobby Lobby, one of the big companies in the lawsuit, clearly has a Christian-centric perspective — they didn’t stock Jewish items in their aisles until they were called out. Just imagine how they’d treat their Muslim employees.

This lawsuit, filed in the name of bogus religious freedom, is actually extremely dangerous for freedom of religion. It’s about a group of largely male CEOs trying to get government permission assert misogynist Christian hegemony over their employees. As a result, American Jews and all religious minorities should be paying extremely close attention.

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