Five summers ago, leading up to its passage, so-called Obamacare was the focus of town hall meetings across the country. Many of those community meetings turned as ugly and unruly as an English soccer game, with shoving and shouting matches.
Even after the wide-reaching Affordable Care Act passed a year later, that venom did not subside—and has not—and there have been constant attempts to unravel the plan to provide health care access for millions of working class employees.
The most successful of these attempts has come from the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, which objected on religious grounds to providing health care coverage to purchase contraceptives for female employees (even though, ironically, the company itself had financial holdings in the manufacturer of some of the contraceptive manufacturers). Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court narrowly approved their objection—and, in doing so, brought along a second, equally contentious debate in America, the heated conversation over what role religious beliefs should play in public interest decisions. In the subsequent weeks since the contentious Supreme Court decision, the idea that employers can object to specific types of coverage based on religious beliefs has spread like a hungry virus.
But fortunately, our state's very own Senator Jeff Merkley is trying to cap the madness—and, this week our Glass Slipper goes to the junior senator from Oregon.
"The Supreme Court may not get it, but we do," the senator explained at a press conference last Wednesday when introducing the Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act, a bill that would protect coverage of certain health care services and items, and in doing so, would block corporations from determining what contraception a woman can purchase with her health care plan. Sen. Merkley continued, "We're going to keep fighting to ensure that bosses and CEOs can't dictate health care choices that belong between a woman and her doctor."
With as many as nine out of 10 employers "closely held" corporations, like Hobby Lobby, and more than half of the U.S. workforce employed by these businesses, the recent Supreme Court decision threatens to allow corporations to exert their religious beliefs over their employees' beliefs and lifestyles.
More broadly, by introducing a remedy to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, Sen. Merkley also can hopefully help bring back some sanity to the discussion regarding to what extent religious beliefs should govern discussions about public policy.
Although the Hobby Lobby decision to allow corporations to deny certain health care coverage specifically was predicated on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for many it also has unfortunately strengthened that idea the First Amendment provides absolute free exercise of religion.
But that simply is not true. While the First Amendment certainly does provide allowances for free speech and religious freedoms, there are very real limits to those. Or, as one of my law professors liked to explain, "Your freedom of speech ends where my nose begins." Meaning: Sure, you can say or do what you want, but only if it does not cause me any harm.
The Hobby Lobby decision potentially harms hundreds of female employees for that company, including dozens to be hired when a Hobby Lobby shop opens here in Bend—and millions more if the decision is allowed to be implemented widely by closely-held corporations throughout the country.
Thanks to Sen. Merkley for helping keep religion out of the decision-making process for legal and medical matters, and, more specifically, for ensuring that working class employees retain as many rights as possible, and as much of their own freedom as possible against corporations.