I think it’s a pretty safe bet that at least five members of the Supreme Court have never really listened to Bob Dylan’s "The Times They Are A-Changin.’"
One thing you will have to admit about that august body -- it is as predictable as the phases of the moon. Usually the majority rulings are like reading a book backwards. You know what the resolution is going to be even before you are fully aware of the issue.
Chief Justice John Robert’s out-of-left-field decision concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012 was as notable for its departure from script as it was a legal affirmation of a landmark law that benefitted a vast number of Americans.
Like the morass in the Middle East, the Roberts Court is George W. Bush’s gift to America that just keeps right on giving, all draped in black robes and inflated with pomp. It ruled on a case recently that, if nothing else, demonstrates its commitment to the past.
The owners of a chain of Hobby Lobby stores objected to having to pay for certain means of contraception as mandated by the new health care act because they ran counter to their religious beliefs. Whittled down to its fundamentals, the owners felt that the care and maintenance of their religious scruples superseded potential health problems that might result from an employees’ lack of access to emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices.
The court upheld Hobby Lobby’s right to blatantly intrude into the personal lives of its employees and, in doing so, bestowed its blessings upon conservatives’ unhealthy (read downright peculiar) obsession with how other people choose to live. There was jubilation in the Republican camp meetings needless to say. It didn’t quite nullify Roberts’ gross betrayal in the case of the Affordable Care Act, but any opportunity to gloat is always welcome no matter how fleeting it may be. This particular gloat may come at a dear price in November.
I would like to state here that I am aware that many people hold strongly to religious beliefs and -- if you will pardon a tortured metaphor -- rely on them as compasses to avoid capsizing along the rock-strewn coast of life. But I also believe that we live in a country where, for better or worse, we are called upon to monetarily support things that may be morally repugnant to us. There are probably millions of people in America who did not want to contribute to the disastrous wars in Vietnam and Iraq. No one, as far as I know, pursued a case to the Supreme Court objecting to those particular expenditures of their tax dollars -- on religious or any other grounds.
I do not believe for a moment that people like John Boehner or Mitch McConnell give a tinker’s damn about religious rights except insofar as they can exploit the issues for votes. In much the same way, any opposition to war is always pedaled as a gross disrespect for the sacrifice made by service people. The tactics are as stale as a loaf of month-old bread, but they still seem to be palatable to some voters if enough smoothly-churned butter gets slavered upon them.
Hobby Lobby wants to present itself as a bulwark against secular assaults on moral values. A stroll down the aisles at any of its stores, however, reveal a multitude of items made in China, a country that is notorious for employing children in near slave-labor conditions and for forcing abortions upon women who disobey the government’s one child per family mandate. But, as long as they can slap a good mark up on merchandise from China, Hobby Lobby’s Christian sensibilities are significantly less offended.
The GOP is shamelessly using people of faith to further its own ends and the Hobby Lobby case is a perfect example of it. They rejoice at the defeat of a perceived indignity inflicted by our oppressive government, but conveniently look the other way when a profit can be realized from atrocities perpetrated by another government upon its citizens. For all the Republican lip service that is paid to upholding Christian values, they ultimately take a back seat to precepts stipulated in the Holy Grail of Business.
I know it is hard to inject sanctimony into a lion’s den, but at least the Romans weren’t hypocritical about their exploitation of people of the Christian faith.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.