Remember that Hobby Lobby ruling, and how one of the problems listed in the dissent was how widely its precedent could allow “sincere religious belief” to be deployed as an unwarranted shield? And remember how there was a widespread no, no it just affects this one case.
(That one was already false long before this post and what this post’s about – emboldened by the HL ruling, it took only days for other companies to sue for the removal of female – always female, of course – contraception from their health plans. And even to exempt them from submitting forms to other insurers to allow female employees to see contraceptive care through other means).
But now there’s a new front. A little over a week ago, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – a sect that broke away from the Mormons when the latter went off the idea of polygamy and child-brides – found itself in court under investigation for violation of child labour laws. See here for a fuller description of the case, along with links to a lot of the deeper background.
A prominent member of the sect, Vernon Steed was called to testify, but refused on the grounds of having taken a religious vow not to discuss internal matters of the sect with outsiders. And this claim has been upheld by Utah Judge David Sam. That’s right, Judge Sam has ruled that a relgious vow exempts Steed from giving evidence pertinent to a federal investigation of child welfare – an investigation of a sect whose leader is currently in prison for the sexual assault of underaged girls he decreed to be his wives. And the HL decision was cited as the justification.
The sort of thing that many of us predicted, to a response of “oh, no, too alarmist.”
The HL decision was about four types of contraception that the company consiered abortifacients – this “sincere religious belief” was ruled to exempt them from offering these in its employee health plans. This is, this particular religious belief wasn’t like most others, because it was about something that was empirically testable. As such, their belief that these were abortifacients rather than contraceptives simply wasn’t a matter for belief – it was a matter of fact, and it was demonstrably wrong – and no amount of real or pretended sincerity can change that. And as I said, almost immediately other companies filed their own suits to push their exemptions further.
These decisions fueled two ideas dear to the Religious Right’s heart. The idea that religious belief could be used to trump empirical and demonstrable fact – that “sincere” trumps true and false. And of course the old favourite that religious belief trumps the health of female employees.
Of course, they were justified in terms of protecting unborn children. But now they’re being used to cover up the possible harm of actual, living children, not hypothetical future ones – at the very least, they’re being used to obstruct attempts to verify the children’s welfare. Moving on from empirical fact, sincere religious belief is now being allowed to trump being held accountable for how you treat children in your care – “sincere” trumping legal and illegal, or right and wrong. And of course it’s moved on from women to children, the very demographic the religious right claims to champion.
How could anyone have seriously doubted this would be the result of the Hobby Lobby decision? The slippery slope is always invoked as a danger in progressively encroaching on the powerful – but things roll down real slopes, not up. This is what a real slippery slope looks like – left unchecked, they encroach on the powerless, not the powerful.