Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case is the corporate equivalent of the road to Damascus, says Elizabeth Sepper, JD, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Many more corporations will find religion to opt out of regulation that affects their bottom line,” Sepper says. “Before Hobby Lobby, businesses lost claims to fire pregnant women, refuse to promote non-Christians, discriminate against gays, and pay below the minimum wage.
“After Hobby Lobby, they seem likely to succeed.”
Sepper says the Supreme Court dealt a blow to women’s equality in the workplace. “The all-male majority just couldn’t see that refusing to provide a health plan that meets women’s health needs — while covering everything men need — is in fact discrimination,” she says.
“It may be tempting to view objections to contraception and same-sex marriage as women’s or gay rights issues. But the corporate conscience doctrine will have far-reaching effects. Health and employee benefits will be open for attack from employers, religiously affiliated and not. Consumer protections, especially those related to sexual orientation — which already face court challenges — will become more vulnerable.
Sepper says now a host of worker protection laws may be vulnerable. “Title VII, the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, will constitute targets,” she says. “Longstanding social insurance programs — such as workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and social security — could again see resistance from employers. The Supreme Court will have created Free Exercise Lochnerism, undoing economic regulation in the name of corporate religious liberty.
“Hobby Lobby is an anti-religious liberty decision,” Sepper says. “People of all faiths and beliefs work for for-profit corporations. The Supreme Court’s decision vindicates the religious liberty of billionaire business owners at the expense of thousands of workers.”