Supreme Court Lets Its Jesus Freak Flag Fly

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave two big wins to people who seek to discriminate against others and blame it on their religion.

In two 7-2 rulings (yes, you read that right, NOT COOL BREYER AND KAGAN), the Court gave its blessing to legalized discrimination in the name of religion. In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, SCOTUS gave the green light to employers to strip their employees of birth control coverage for "religious" and "moral" reasons. And in Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru, it gave religious schools the right to discriminate against basically any of their teachers, at any time, for any reason.

So that's fun!

Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania

Oh goodie, our favorite nuns who really hate women's healthcare are back!

If you're having a sense of déjà vu right now, it's not just you. This case was yet another fight over the ACA's birth control mandate, because Republicans and religious zealots just can't seem to get over the fact that it's now easier and cheaper for women and people who can get pregnant to get birth control.

The ACA requires health insurance plans to cover "additional preventive care and screenings" for women. Because of this, the Department of Health and Human Services promulgated rules that require plans to cover FDA-approved birth control to people who can get pregnant at no charge.

This has pissed off Republicans and misogynists everywhere ever since, because when women can control when they get pregnant and have children, they have more control over their own lives. And obviously, any kind of bodily autonomy, or just plain autonomy, for women is an evil that must be stopped.

With a vote of 7-2, the Court upheld the Trump HHS rule that allows an exceptionally broad exemption based on religious or moral beliefs. The only dissenters were RBG and Sonia Sotomayor. Democratic appointees Justices Breyer (Clinton) and Kagan (Obama) sided with the Court's five conservatives to uphold the rule that takes insurance coverage away from thousands of women.

For the Court, Clarence Thomas writes that the ACA gave HHS "virtually unbridled discretion to decide what counts as preventive care and screenings[.]" And because the ACA gives HHS broad discretion, it can do basically whatever it wants! (Kind of like Trump and his Article II.)

Congress could have limited [HHS's] discretion in any number of ways, but it chose not to do so.

And so,

the same capacious grant of authority that empowers [HHS] to make these determinations leaves its discretion equally unchecked in other areas, including the ability to identify and create exemptions from its own Guidelines.


[u]nder a plain reading of the statute, then, we conclude that the ACA gives [HHS] broad discretion to define preventive care and screenings and to create the religious and moral exemptions.

So screw you and your contraception, women who already have the misfortune of working for anti-woman extremists!

Clarence Thomas, being Clarence Thomas, also felt the need to praise the nuns who have declared war on reproductive rights,

For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother. [...] But for the past seven years, they — like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rule makings leading up to today's decision — have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.

RBG, joined by Sotomayor, wrote in dissent that

In accommodating claims of religious freedom, this Court has taken a balanced approach, one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs. [...] Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.

And birth control is important.

Ready access to contraceptives and other preventive measures for which Congress set the stage in §300gg–13(a)(4) both safeguards women's health and enables women to chart their own life's course.

As Ginsburg notes, the majority's decision

leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer's insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.

Alito, joined by Gorsuch, felt the need to chime in about how it's just really not important for women to have access to birth control, anyway. Those damn women folk and their silly demands!

This decision could result in more than 100,000 people losing access to birth control. Isn't it just adorable how the same people who claim abortion is murder also keep fighting against the most effective way to stop unplanned pregnancies?

Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru

Yesterday's other super happy fun case gives religious private schools free rein to do all the discrimination they want! Woo!

Because of the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, religious institutions have a "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws. It makes a lot of sense when you're talking about actual ministers — of course religious institutions have to be able to make employment decisions based on things like religion.

This case extends the ministerial exception to ... pretty much any teachers at religious schools, regardless of what they actually teach. The ruling will allow religious schools to discriminate against people for any reason whatsoever.

It's important to remember that the ministerial exception doesn't just say religious institutions can discriminate on the basis of religion; it grants them broad authority to discriminate in any way they want. The plaintiffs here had argued they were discriminated against not for reasons having any relation whatsoever to religion, but for receiving cancer treatment and getting older.

Although the teachers weren't required to have any ministerial training or education, Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that the ministerial exception should extend to them anyway. Because obviously, a gym teacher at a Catholic school and a priest are totally the same thing.

Once again, the Court's two most badass ladies dissented. Joined by RBG, Sotomayor writes that the majority's "simplistic
approach has no basis in law and strips thousands of school teachers of their legal protections[.]" And this ruling strips rights from

countless coaches, camp counselors, nurses, social-service workers, in-house lawyers, media-relations personnel, and many others who work for religious institutions. All these employees could be subject to discrimination for reasons completely irrelevant to their employers' religious tenets.

The first paragraph of the dissent gives a perfect summary of what happened, here.

Two employers fired their employees allegedly because one had breast cancer and the other was elderly. Purporting to rely on this Court's decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U. S. 171 (2012), the majority shields those employers from disability and age-discrimination claims. In the Court's view, because the employees taught short religion modules at Catholic elementary schools, they were "ministers" of the Catholic faith and thus could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse. The Court reaches this result even though the teachers taught primarily secular subjects, lacked substantial religious titles and training, and were not even required to be Catholic. In foreclosing the teachers' claims, the Court skews the facts, ignores the applicable standard of review, and collapses Hosanna-Tabor's careful analysis into a single consideration: whether a church thinks its employees play an important religious role.

Welcome to religious oligarchy!

Okay, maybe things aren't that bad [yet]. But they also aren't good.

Combined with last week's ruling that Montana has to give tax credits for kids to be brainwashed by religious private schools, the Robert Court has shown that it will side with the most extreme "YAY RELIGION!" viewpoints it can find — that is, so long as litigants are Christian.

As Adam Liptak noted at the New York Times,

The three decisions were part of a broad examination of the relationship between church and state over the 15-year tenure of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in which the court's conservative majority has almost always sided with religious groups.

But Liptak and others skip over an important point: Christianity. The Roberts Court is less about religious freedom and more about promoting Christianity as the state religion. The Court has stepped in, time and time again, specifically when the litigants are Christian.

I find it very hard to believe Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas would be so adamant about giving tax dollars to religious schools, allowing indiscriminate discrimination, and letting religion decide the kind of healthcare people receive if we were talking about madrassas and mosques rather than Catholic schools and Christian churches.

Anyway, both opinions are trash, but here they are if you're masochists like us and want to read them.

Little Sisters:

And Our Lady of Guadalupe:

[ NYT ]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.

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