Although I was expecting a strong public outcry after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the depth and breadth of the outrage has surprised me. People who have never expressed an interest in women’s issues are posting about it on Facebook and asking me questions about the case. Friends who have a passing interest in reproductive rights have reached out to me to find out what they can do and where they can donate.
I think the reason for this wide-spread outrage is that in the Hobby Lobby decision, several different long-term attacks on individual liberties all come together. Just as three different weather fronts collided to make the 1991 “Perfect Storm” that is the subject of the book and film of the same name, three different “fronts” collide in the Court’s decision as well:
- The Use of Religion As an Excuse to Discriminate: Over the past few years, there has been a campaign to use religion as a disguise for discrimination. (It must be noted that many people of religion have spoken out against these attempts.) Perhaps the most famous recent example of this is the Arizona bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve LGBT individuals and others. In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court allowed employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.
- Corporate Personhood: There have been many attempts to imbue corporations with an ever-increasing number of legal rights in order to allow the 1 percent to further entrench their power. The best known example of this is the Citizens United case – in which the Supreme Court held that corporations had a First Amendment right to make campaign donations. Thanks to the Hobby Lobby decision, corporations will not only be joining us on the campaign trail but in the pew as well, since the Supreme Court ruled that some corporations have a right to religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- Denying Women The Ability to Make Their Own Reproductive Health Decisions: At the heart of the campaign against reproductive rights is the idea that women should not be able to make their own decisions about their health care. The outpouring of support for Wendy Davis’ 2013 filibuster was precisely because women were feeling silenced about their own health and Davis spoke up seemingly on all of our behalf. The Hobby Lobby decision doubles-down on this point – both by allowing bosses to have a say in their women employee’s health care choices and because it is about birth control. Let’s repeat that – they don’t trust women to make decisions about BIRTH CONTROL. In the year 2014.
Every so often, a seismic event happens that changes the course of the nation’s public debate. And, in recent years there have been several events about women’s issues that have engaged the public – the all-male House panel on birth control, Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and the Wendy Davis filibuster are a just a few examples. But, the last time I remember there being this level of public outrage was when the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court despite Anita Hill’s testimony about his sexually harassing her. That event lead to an increase in the number of sexual harassment filings, a national realization of how little political power women really had, and the Year of the Woman 1992 election cycle.
Only time will tell if the reaction to Hobby Lobby has the same kind of long-term ramifications. But if these first two weeks are any indication, we are at the beginning of a landscape-altering change in the public’s involvement in the issues raised in Hobby Lobby.