Supreme Court will decide, again, on Obamacare contraceptive mandate

Supreme Court Justices Elana Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor

The Supreme Court announced that it will hear seven challenges, consolidated into one, of non-profit religious organizations which believe that sending a letter opting out of contraceptive coverage for their employees violates their religious beliefs.

Sixteen months after ruling narrowly that private companies with religious objections cannot be forced to pay for employees’ contraceptives, the high court has been met with a chorus of cries from religious charities, schools and hospitals seeking to get out of the birth control business altogether.
The new challenge asks the justices to overturn federal appeals court decisions that would force the non-profit groups to take action in order to opt out of the requirement, rather than receiving the blanket exclusion granted churches and other solely religious institutions.

On one hand, the court has saved Obamacare from legal destruction twice, in 2012 and again this year. But it ruled last year that closely-held corporations,

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Administrative judge rules against Hobby Lobby in transgender discrimination case

Huge pride flag at the Portland Maine pride parade June 20, 2015

Hobby Lobby has just learned that not all judges are going to be on its side. In a discrimination suit filed against the company by a transgender employee, a judge back in May—the ruling was just made public—that one of the company’s stores could not refuse long-time employee Meggan Sommerville access to the women’s restroom after her transition.

Because she suffers from fibromyalgia, she has an increased need to use the restroom, but her only choices were to use the male restroom, or wait up to six hours for a lunch break that allowed her to use the restroom at a nearby fast-food restaurant. When she tried to use the women’s room once in 2011 as a customer — she was off the clock — she received a written warning. Eventually, in 2014, Hobby Lobby constructed a separate gender-neutral single-use restroom, which is still the only restroom Sommerville is allowed

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Appeals court turns back Obamacare birth control mandate for non-profit employers, schools

Members of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and more than 20 other organizations hold a

If the Supreme Court wants to expand its Hobby Lobby decision to charities and non-profit operators of businesses, colleges, and schools it now has what it needs—a split among Appeals courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued two decisions on Thursday barring the government from enforcing the mandate with the charities and non-profits, splitting from six other appeals courts.

When the Obama administration filed its first response in the Supreme Court to the new group of non-profit cases, in mid-August, it relied upon the unanimous views of appeals courts up to then as an argument against Supreme Court review. That situation has now changed.
The Eighth Circuit became the first appeals court to accept the non-profits’ argument that it would violate their religious beliefs if they had a role in the process of making birth-control pills and devices available, free of charge, to their employees

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Judge expands justification for contraception mandate refusal on moral grounds

Protesters hold signs at the steps of the Supreme Court as arguments begin today to challenge the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers provide coverage for contraception as part of an employee's health care, in Washington March 25, 2014. The U

The post-Hobby Lobby legal world is getting strange, with the one of the latest challenge to Obamacare’s contraception mandate being upheld on moral—not religious—grounds.

The case concerned a group called March for Life, which was formed after the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. The group, Monday’s decision said, “is a nonprofit, nonreligious pro-life organization.” […]
Judge Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the government’s position [that the group “is not religious and is not a church”]. “This not only oversimplifies the issue—it misses the point entirely,” Judge Leon wrote.

“The characteristic that warrants protection—an employment relationship based in part on a shared objection to abortifacients—is altogether separate from theism. Stated differently, what H.H.S. claims to be protecting is religious beliefs, when it actually is protecting a moral philosophy

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Missouri lawmaker who went to court to keep daughters off birth control wins one legal battle

Protesters hold signs at the steps of the Supreme Court as arguments begin today to challenge the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers provide coverage for contraception as part of an employee's health care, in Washington March 25, 2014. The U

Remember the Missouri state representative who is suing the Obama administration because he doesn’t want his one minor and two adult daughters to have access to prescription birth control on his health insurance? His case was tossed out by federal trial court, but has been resurrected by a three-judge panel on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his challenge, state Rep. Paul Joseph Wieland asserts that his daughters would be able to get prescription birth control under his insurance plan, provided by the state of Missouri, and that violates his religious beliefs, just like Hobby Lobby’s beliefs were supposedly violated if the insurance plans they provided to employees covered certain kinds of birth control. Never mind that Wieland’s daughters might not want to get birth control, the very fact that they could was akin to “an edict that said that parents must provide a stocked, unlocked liquor

Continue reading “Missouri lawmaker who went to court to keep daughters off birth control wins one legal battle”

The complicated world of having your boss decide what kind of birth control you can use

Infographic explaining how where you work affects your insurance coverage for birth control

Too bad Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy decided to wait until this session to not be insane about Obamacare. Not only did their Hobby Lobby decision make it okay for bosses to deny their employees health insurance plans that cover birth control (because that has everything to do with your job), they opened up the floodgates for all sorts of “religious freedom” claims in which people declare they won’t do something that their job requires them to do and they think is icky because God. But back to the birth control part, the Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful explainer of the newly complicated world of trying to plan your family with health insurance.
Who has coverage of birth control, with no co-pays, thanks to Obamacare?

Women who have a non-grandfathered health insurance plan through an employer (either their own, their spouse’s or their parent’s) that does

Continue reading “The complicated world of having your boss decide what kind of birth control you can use”

Jeb Bush enters the Falwell primary with speech at Liberty University

During the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, Arizona Senator John McCain proclaimed Jerry Falwell an “agent of intolerance.” But after losing the nomination to George W. Bush, McCain determined he would not repeat his mistake the next time around. So, in May 2006, the Maverick acknowledged he was going to what John Stewart deemed “crazy base world” to deliver the commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University.
Now, making the journey to Liberty University is a rite of passage for Republican White House wannabes competing in the first-in-the-nation Falwell primary. So on Saturday, Jeb Bush followed in the footsteps of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal to pledge his fealty to the GOP’s evangelical voters who will control his fate.

Bush’s speech followed the usual script for such occasions. Echoing the words of Ted Cruz (“Religious liberty has never been more under attack”) and Bobby Jindal (“The war

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Reclaiming secularism is the key to protecting religious liberty

Over the past few years, two topics have come to dominate the discourse about religion in America. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act and especially the rapid acceptance of marriage equality have prompted social conservatives to decry the supposed threat to “religious liberty.” At the same time, the rise of “the Nones”—the growing numbers of Americans unaffiliated with any formal religion—has produced triumphalism among some atheists and despair on the part of some of the faithful.
Unfortunately, these twin debates have produced heat, but not light, and for much the same reason. Simply put, in the United States the terms “religious liberty” and “secularism” don’t mean what their appropriators think they mean. Our First Amendment protections provide a shield from government interference with the practice of our own faiths, not a sword to prevent others from the exercise of speech and religion we might find offensive. And in

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Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. And not in the fun way, like in Harry Potter.

Bobby Jindal wants to be relevant. Yes, he wants to be president, but given where the soon-to-be former governor of Louisiana stands in recent polling, Jindal needs to make sure he can walk before he can seriously run. After previously trying to be the sensible Republican who criticized those within the party who say “stupid” things, he’s now gone ahead and abandoned that anti-stupid position.
You see, Jindal is quite perturbed at the fact that, in Indiana and Arkansas, corporations forced fundamentalist conservatives to back down from their attempts to enshrine in law the absolute right of anyone to deny gay people equal treatment if doing so would offend their religious beliefs. Jindal has decided that the way to differentiate himself from the rest of the Republican presidential

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Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. And not in the fun way, like in Harry Potter.

Bobby Jindal wants to be relevant. Yes, he wants to be president, but given where the soon-to-be former governor of Louisiana stands in recent polling, Jindal needs to make sure he can walk before he can seriously run. After previously trying to be the sensible Republican who criticized those within the party who say “stupid” things, he’s now gone ahead and abandoned that anti-stupid position.
You see, Jindal is quite perturbed at the fact that, in Indiana and Arkansas, corporations forced fundamentalist conservatives to back down from their attempts to enshrine in law the absolute right of anyone to deny gay people equal treatment if doing so would offend their religious beliefs. Jindal has decided that the way to differentiate himself from the rest of the Republican presidential

Continue reading “Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination”

Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. And not in the fun way, like in Harry Potter.

Bobby Jindal wants to be relevant. Yes, he wants to be president, but given where the soon-to-be former governor of Louisiana stands in recent polling, Jindal needs to make sure he can walk before he can seriously run. After previously trying to be the sensible Republican who criticized those within the party who say “stupid” things, he’s now gone ahead and abandoned that anti-stupid position.
You see, Jindal is quite perturbed at the fact that, in Indiana and Arkansas, corporations forced fundamentalist conservatives to back down from their attempts to enshrine in law the absolute right of anyone to deny gay people equal treatment if doing so would offend their religious beliefs. Jindal has decided that the way to differentiate himself from the rest of the Republican presidential

Continue reading “Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination”

Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. And not in the fun way, like in Harry Potter.

Bobby Jindal wants to be relevant. Yes, he wants to be president, but given where the soon-to-be former governor of Louisiana stands in recent polling, Jindal needs to make sure he can walk before he can seriously run. After previously trying to be the sensible Republican who criticized those within the party who say “stupid” things, he’s now gone ahead and abandoned that anti-stupid position.
You see, Jindal is quite perturbed at the fact that, in Indiana and Arkansas, corporations forced fundamentalist conservatives to back down from their attempts to enshrine in law the absolute right of anyone to deny gay people equal treatment if doing so would offend their religious beliefs. Jindal has decided that the way to differentiate himself from the rest of the Republican presidential

Continue reading “Bobby Jindal advocates unholy alliance of fundamentalists and big business to back discrimination”

Justice Alito signals beginning of next attack on contraception coverage

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito stayed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit which upheld the Obama administration’s rules expanding contraceptive coverage in health insurance. The challenge before the Third Circuit was brought by a group of religious non-profits in Pennsylvania, who argued that complying with the new rules the administration had established for them—providing “a self-certification form opting out of the coverage requirement” to a third party—was still objectionable because “signing such a form or letter facilitates moral evil. This is true whether or not applicants pay for the objectionable coverage.”
This will undoubtedly result in yet another Supreme Court challenge that will expand the Hobby Lobby decision to make sure that there’s no way employees of either private, secular companies who claim a religious exemption or religious non-profits can get contraceptives—they will strike down whatever accommodation the administration tries to create. That was evident, as Ian Millhiser writes, when just four days after the Hobby Lobby decision—in which Alito wrote that this accommodation would protect employers and employees—the court said Wheaton College could refuse to sign the form. Staying this ruling is the next step.

Alito’s order is a warning that this issue will not remain in the lower courts forever. Indeed, the Third Circuit case provides the Supreme Court with a vehicle that it could use as soon as next fall to consider whether the send-the-letter or the fill-out-the-form options will survive contact with the justices, or whether federal law does, indeed, give religious employers “the right to enlist the government to effectuate . . . a religious veto against legally required conduct of third parties.”

There’s very little doubt now as to how the men of the Roberts Five will vote next time around.

Survey: Young Republicans like Obamacare’s ’employer subsidized consequence-free sex’

Protesters hold signs at the steps of the Supreme Court as arguments begin today to challenge the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers provide coverage for contraception as part of an employee's health care, in Washington March 25, 2014. The U

Remember how conservatives were crowing over last year’s Hobby Lobby decision, the one that allows employers to dictate employees’ contraceptive options? Like this:

My religion trumps your “right”€ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.
@EWErickson

Turns out, young Republicans think consequence-free sex is a pretty great idea, and so is Obamacare’s mandated contraceptive coverage.

Bar chart showing support for contraception among young Republicans.

The survey found that more young Republicans support the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement than oppose it. The health care law requires insurance companies to pay for certain contraceptive services—including birth control pills, rings, implants and intrauterine devices—without a copay for patients. […]
According to the Echelon Insights survey, young Republicans generally want to maintain public funding for providing contraceptive services for low-income people and are interested in policies that could lead to lower spending in the future. More than 60 percent support providing more educational programs and campaigns, and half support increasing public funding for community organizations that provide contraceptive services and education.

Two-thirds of survey respondents said women should have access to affordable, effective birth control so they can build families on their own terms, and 58 percent said they feel it is less expensive to pay for contraception than for an unplanned pregnancy. About 54 percent agree that the number of unplanned pregnancies that result in abortions is a compelling reason to ensure access to contraceptives.

Trying to drag the nation back to the 19th century, at some point, is going bite the GOP in the ass. Sooner rather than later would be helpful, but as the GOP continues to circle the drain on the culture wars, my bet is it’s going to be sooner.

American religious freedom is a shield, not a sword

Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not the first Republican to use the First Amendment as a weapon to deny equal rights for some Americans. And Pence won’t be the last conservative caught in the blowback from civil rights groups, corporate leaders and even some Christian churches. That’s because as marriage equality continues to win in the courts of law and public opinion, conservatives are turning the First Amendment’s freedom of religion protections into a cudgel to beat back others’ speech and behavior they find offensive.
Governor Pence signed Indiana’s new Religious Freedom’s Restoration Act not only “because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” but because “many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”  Pence has plenty of company among the 2016 Republican White House hopefuls. While Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has warned, “Religious liberty has never been more under attack,” his Louisiana rival Bobby Jindal declared, “Make no mistake,” Jindal said, “The war over religious liberty is the war over free speech and without the first there is no such thing as the second.”  But it was front-runner Jeb Bush who gave the game away in expressing his opinion about same-sex marriage:

“I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue – including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

Unfortunately, Bush’s posture, which one Republican strategist described as “a new way to talk to about same-sex marriage,” is little different than the religious liberty justifications segregationists used to defend Jim Crow and its bans on interracial marriage. Just as important, the new wave of GOP legislation to enable discrimination against LGBT Americans is a perversion of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Ironically, the federal RFRA law was the congressional response to a ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia in the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith.

Continue reading more on this story below.

Religious freedom gives me the constitutional right to violate your constitutional rights. Right?

Same-sex couple Todd and Jeff Delmay (R) embrace as Catherina Pareto (L) looks on as they get married at the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Miami, Florida, January 5, 2015. Florida's first same-sex weddings began in Miami on Monday, shortly

They’ve got rights too.

Conservatives just love the Constitution. Or at least they say they do. The thing is, they don’t seem to have any idea how it works. At least that’s a more charitable explanation than saying they don’t care how the Constitution works and merely use it as a fig leaf while they undermine the rights it guarantees. And I’m a charitable kind of guy, so I won’t say that.
When the Supreme Court recognizes that marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right, one part of the battle will be over. But conservatives have already begun to fight on another front, namely how to implement (or not) that right. Republican state legislators in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, and both Carolinas (South Carolina was first!) have this year proposed various bills that would give government officials who perform civil marriage ceremonies and/or issue marriage licenses and other related documents the ability to refuse same-sex couples if it would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Additionally, Oklahoma State Rep. Todd Russ proposed to take civil officials out of the marriage business altogether and force prospective couples to be married by “an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi.” Not a Christian or a Jew? Out of luck, apparently, although Rep. Russ says anyone else who wants to get married can “fil[e] an affidavit of common law marriage with the court clerk.” Small problem: the state of Oklahoma doesn’t recognize common law marriages, although courts have recognized some on a case-by-case basis. I’m sure Hindu and atheist couples will be just fine with that.

For more on conservative attempts to justify discrimination on the basis of religious freedom, please follow beyond the fold.

Continue reading “Religious freedom gives me the constitutional right to violate your constitutional rights. Right?”

Conservatives learn an important lesson for Religious Freedom Day

Every year on January 16, the United States marks Religious Freedom Day. Coming as it does in the immediate wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, the timing could not be better for Americans to commemorate this day, as President Obama declared, “with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation’s liberty, and that show us how we can protect it for future generations at home and around the world.”
As it turns out, some of Obama’s fiercest critics on the right are helping do just that. In “Blasphemy for Me, But Not for Thee,” Matthew Continetti defended the “the right to offend” and accused liberals of failing to support it. National Review editor Rich Lowry offered a corollary in “The Crisis of Free Speech,” proclaiming that there is no right not to be offended. In so doing, both men have done a great public service by highlighting the shameful hypocrisy of the phony “religious liberty” crusade now being waged by the Republican Party and its religious right allies.

Lowry, whose primary claim to fame was “sitting up straighter” in response to Sarah Palin’s “starbursts,” put his latest epiphany this way:

Domestically, we should foster a robust culture of free speech that forswears the insidious logic of “your right to free speech ends where my right not to be offended begins.”

Unfortunately for Lowry and his fellow travelers, that “insidious logic” is at the very center of the campaign by the religious freedom frauds of the Republican Party.
Consider this recent statement by 2016 GOP White House hopeful Jeb Bush on a recent court decision recognizing marriage equality in Florida. Bush, who 20 years ago declared that “sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion,” tried out a new formula earlier this month:

“I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue – including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

Please read below the fold for more on this story.

Mike Lee denounces SCOTUS ruling to uphold and strengthen the rights of individuals. This time.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (C) and Senator Mike Lee (2nd R) speak to reporters about their opposition after the Senate passed a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, sending the issue back to the House of Representatives, at the U.S. Capitol in Washing

Ted Cruz’s sidekick is deeply disappointed.

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee reacts to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow lower court rulings allowing marriage equality, including in Utah, to stand.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to not review the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert is disappointing. Nothing in the Constitution forbids a state from retaining the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Whether to change that definition is a decision best left to the people of each state—not to unelected, politically unaccountable judges. The Supreme Court owes it to the people of those states, whose democratic choices are being invalidated, to review the question soon and reaffirm that states do have that right.”

Lee, reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow employers to dictate the healthcare choices of women working for them:

“Today’s decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby marks an important victory for religious liberty. Americans do not shed their religious freedoms merely by going into business. The Court’s ruling upholds and strengthens the rights of individuals and the rule of law, while protecting the Constitution.”

So the Supreme Court wasn’t a bunch of unelected, politically unaccountable judges during Hobby Lobby, but they are now. Because the right to take birth control away from someone who works for you is far more constitutional than the right to marry. If you’re a Republican.

Ad: ‘Sullivan would limit healthcare choices for Alaska women’

A new ad highlights Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan’s terrible positions on women’s reproductive health. The ad, from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, points to a familiar set of Republican positions:

Dan Sullivan would limit healthcare choices for Alaska women. Here are the facts:
Sullivan wants to end a woman’s right to an abortion. He’s pledged to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But he’d invade women’s privacy even more. Sullivan would give bosses the power to deny birth control coverage for their employees. Dan Sullivan is wrong.

The key thing is that it’s not just Dan Sullivan. If he’s in the Senate, he’ll be voting with dozens of other Republicans to limit women’s healthcare choices. Because these are the standard positions of his party—thinking bosses should have the right to pick and choose healthcare options for their workers is the Republican position, at least when it comes to contraception. That’s why it’s so important to work to defeat Republicans at every level.

Please give a few dollars to help elect Daily Kos-endorsed strong Democratic women around the country.

Republicans’ new birth control platform not finding any fans in religious right

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life leads anti-abortion demonstrators as they cheer after the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that business owners can

Not. Happy. Now.

The religious right is not happy, not one bit, with the growing list of Republicans who are trying to blunt the edges of their War on Women with their embrace of an over-the-counter Pill. While these candidates recognize that they have to live in the 21st century to win a general election, their formerly staunch supporters feel betrayed, and pissed.

Watching Republican candidates push over-the-counter birth control has left some social conservatives fuming.
Some on the Religious Right see the plan as backtracking on conservative ideals, and they worry the ambiguity of the proposal would make pills too easy to access. […]

The strategy is also resulting in political fracturing, with some on the Religious Right feeling they have been marginalized more broadly by their party.

“Republicans have historically had an uncanny knack for doing whatever it takes to lose their numbers in the polls; this would be the latest,” said [Connie Mackie, president of the Family Research Council Action Pact]. “It’s a political strategy. They should stop shopping around for things that appeal to liberals and stick to their core beliefs of life, courage, religious liberty, defense, and economic reform…. [But] they get these political advisers or contractors that come in and give the wrong advice.”

It’s an interesting world in which they live. One where the 64 percent of sexually active women who use prescription birth control are perfectly willing to give it up. Where these women will all care a lot more about religious liberty, defense, and economic reform than the ability to actually decide when to have children. What an inconvenience for the religious right that women who prioritize self-determination vote, and so candidates—even Republican ones—have to at least recognize that fact.