Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores

Legal Adviser for this post: Christjahn. Who Googled all the things I wanted to double-check and laughed when I drafted in strict judgments before I took them back out.


By this point, we’ve probably all heard about the ruling of 30 June 2014, that “closely held” companies have some freedom to deny  insurance coverage of health care to their employees due to the religious beliefs of the company’s owner(s) superimposed upon the company as a whole.

It would probably be helpful to define what a “closely held” company really is:
Closely HeldOwned by the founder(s) of the company (meaning they have over 50% of the stocks in the company. These stocks are limited in number so that you can only get the majority of them by someone else selling their share to you.)
(Cornell Law School Definition)
The majority of the stocks are owned by less than five individuals (IRS definition)

So the definitions disagree somewhat, which is bothersome, but ultimately nothing employee owned or owned in a big spread out stock way gets to be “closely held,” so this couldn’t be applied by HyVee, for example. This privilege was granted under the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (1993), which only occurs when the behavior of the religious person is not strictly illegal (see Employment Division v. Smith). [This act eerily instituted after marital rape became illegal, despite large religious protest…. twilight zone music and affirmation that this is, indeed, a joke].

The interesting things in this case are, however, not the legal definitions and precedent acts leading to the decision. More intriguing are the religious values of the corporation in stock investments, the medical science viability required to pass a ruling on medical exemptions, what kinds of things could be exempt from coverage by other religious groups, and the granting of person-hood to corporations.


As to the religious values of Hobby Lobby when applied to profits from their investments, I recommend this article by Forbes’ contributor, Rick Ungar (click the underlined words for the article). He does not hold back with his opinions, something for which I admire his writing but I will warn that if you are easily offended and deny the purportedly hypocritical actions of Hobby Lobby owners, you likely won’t enjoy the read. In short, just after starting their case which ended at the end of this June, the company added substantial stocks to its portfolios in companies who produce IUDs, “Plan-B” contraception, and drugs for abortions. One can easily see how, as almost all other companies are required to cover these services in their insurance, this could be a very successful stock. But, wouldn’t someone morally opposed to paying for contraception also be morally opposed to profiting from its sale?

Hobby Lobby has avoided covering two types IUDs and any “Plan B” / “Morning After” pills which prevent implantation of a zygote into the uterine lining (all that bloody nutritious tissue that females shed on a lunar cycle) because they claim that this is a type of abortion. However, they are not morally opposed to preemptive birth controls which thicken cervical mucus to make the passage harder for spermatozoa and thin the uterine lining to prevent implantation of a zygote into the uterine lining (all that . . . wait. I’ve said this before. Oh, this is silly, it would seem that the things they are morally opposed to and the things they are not morally opposed to do the same thing. Well, that’s funny. So, the pre-sex-ed understanding of ‘where babies come from’ by corporate officials is more important in law than medical understanding. Okay, now it all makes sense. Silly me, do disregard all of that, I was obviously too confident in Supreme Court official’s value of science over opinions.

What else could be exempt by this ruling, besides birth control? Well, not blood transfusions. Jehovah’s Witnesses are morally opposed to blood transfusions but they’ve decided that these exemptions are not to effect people’s health in extreme things like cases of blood needed, but in tiny little non-life-effecting things like pregnancy, it’s okay. So the supreme court gets to decide which religiously determined medical morals are valid and which are silly. Perfect, so that’s all taken care of.

I will now admit that I am a scientist, not a lawyer or professional philosopher, so I will not delve into the latest of the stated points deeply. However, one has probably gathered that I would prefer to grant person-hood to entities with united conscious abilities (though I’m sure individuals with DID would make this definition problematic and more philosophical decisions on what it is to be a person would have to be discussed and then invoked) and not gatherings of individuals. The question is raised, can a person be composed of a multitude of persons? If so, which is more of a person, the collective or the individual?


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