Three years ago, in mid-September, dozens of protestors, upset about economic inequalities, stalked out a park near Wall Street in Manhattan. Over the next three weeks, similar “occupy” protests sprung up from coast to coast, entrenching the concept of “the 1%” in the mentality of Americans—or, less colloquially, that a minute portion of Americans holds the vast majority of wealth.
Although the “movement” ultimately unraveled, and become more about clashes with police (see, Oakland, Calif.) and homeless encampments (see Portland, Ore.), the central premise of the frustration was legitimate: That the wealth distribution in America is increasingly disproportionate, a reality created to a large degree by the increasing power of corporations.
Since the three years since then, though, the divisions between the wealthy, and middle and working-class only have widened. On Monday, the Supreme Court further bolstered corporations’ political immunity and strength when five of the nine justices allowed a corporation to bow out of responsibility for paying for portions of an employee’s health care plan it does not agree with on religious grounds; said more plainly, a corporation is now deemed to have religious views and rights.
Ostensibly, Hobby Lobby is about health care. Since the passage of so-called Obamacare, Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based corporation which will soon open a store in Bend, has refused to provide healthcare coverage for female employees to purchase certain contraceptives. Hobby Lobby objected on the point of freedom of speech and religion—which certainly is an elementary basis for the Americans legal system and sense of independence, but never before has been afforded to a corporation.
On Monday, five out of the nine Supreme Court justices emboldened corporations with that power—and they did so in a manner that, as Justice Ruth Ginsberg points out in a fiery dissent, seems to favor the value of speech from corporation over those viewpoints of individual women and doctors.
This is indeed troubling.
Monday’s ruling further underscores a notorious case four years ago, Citizen United, which provided corporations with an unfettered ability to contribute to political campaigns—an allowance that poured billions of dollars to candidates in the last two rounds of elections; and, with four of five elections decided by whichever candidate has the most funding, is allowing corporations to effectively overwhelm election results. (Dramatically and specifically underscoring the increasing financial disparities between corporations and working-class Americans, there is an arrant hypocrisy that Hobby Lobby, according to documents published by Mother Jones, had invested money from its employee retirement plan into manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit. Further emphasizing this financial hypocrisy and disparity, Justice Ruth Ginsberg points out that, “it bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”)
Also, interestingly, Hobby Lobby is already an example of the political power that corporations are exploiting to transform their religious-based viewpoints into laws. They are the largest funder of the National Christian Charitable Foundation, an organization that leverages a billion dollar endowment to support political groups, politicians and campaigns, like Senate Bill 1062 in Arizona which sought to allow companies to refuse service to persons on religious grounds (like refusing to make a wedding cake because the couple is gay). With strong financial backing, the bill passed the Arizona senate, but was vetoed this February by the governor.
The debate over Hobby Lobby should not be about one’s moral views on abortion, but should focus on the major and frightening concessions of legal and political powers to American corporations—and one that is further minimizing an individual’s viewpoint and political voice.
"The court, I fear,” wrote Justice Ginsberg on Monday, “has ventured into a minefield." And, they are dragging individual Americans along with them, as they hand more and more political power to corporations.