FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision puts faith in compromise

Anti-abortion demonstrators high five as the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington

On Monday the Supreme Court decided its most anticipated case of the year. According to a sharply divided 5-4 court, the government cannot compel a closely-held corporation to provide contraceptive coverage as part of its Affordable Care Act-mandated employee insurance plans.

This was the expected result: four conservatives in favor, four liberals against, and Justice Kennedy concurring in the middle. Yet while many are calling the ruling a victory for conservatives and a loss for women’s (and by extension, LGBT) rights, Justice Alito’s majority opinion is actually far more limited than many had expected. Here’s why.

First, the opinion is limited to closely-held corporations. This distinction makes sense. An individual’s beliefs may be attributed to a family-owned business much more reasonably than to a large corporation. Hobby Lobby, the named plaintiff in the case, is indeed large: it has over 500 stores, and over 13,000 employees. But it is family-owned, and the owners’ devout Christian faith is evident throughout the company -- including its advertising, product choices and employment policies.

Of course, progressives should object to any attribution of religious belief to a for-profit business. It’s bad enough that corporations are people -- now they are people with consciences. But the ship has already sailed on this question. As Justice Alito noted at oral argument, corporations are “persons” as defined in numerous federal laws. That would seem to include the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which set a high standard for any government action that affects religious exercise, and is at issue in this case. Companies having religious beliefs may not make much sense, but the Supreme Court is not addressing this question de novo; there are already laws on the books.

A protester dressed as a copy of the Bible joins groups demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonTo be sure, in Hobby Lobby Justice Alito defended this proposition, writing that “a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.” Well, yes and no -- it also has its own legal status, liabilities, and interests. But it is indisputably a “person” under other laws, and now under RFRA as well.

After years off-stage, Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Sistani takes charge

(Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against predominantly Sunni militants, carry weapons and a portrait of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during a parade in the streets in Baghdad's Sadr city June 14, 2014. An offensive by insurgents that threatens to dismember Iraq seemed to slow on Saturday after days of lightning advances as government forces regained some territory in counter-attacks, easing pressure on the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili ()

(Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against predominantly Sunni militants, carry weapons and a portrait of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during a parade in the streets in Baghdad’s Sadr city June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili)

Najaf is far from Baghdad’s palaces and the battlefields of northern Iraq. Its mud-brick houses, dirt alleys and concrete office blocks project little in the way of strength or sway. But it is here, where Iraq’s most influential clerics work from modest buildings in the shadow of a golden-domed shrine, that the country’s future is being shaped.

Over his past three Friday sermons, Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an ascetic 83-year-old of almost mythological stature to millions of followers in Iraq and beyond, has seized his most active role in politics in a decade.

On eve of Supreme Court ruling, Americans oppose contraceptive ban: poll

(Numerous news crews await outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2014. The Court is expected to rule on several key cases in this term, most notably the Hobby Lobby contraception case that asks whether owners of companies with strongly held religious views can seek an exemption from the birth control provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. REUTERS/Gary Cameron )

(Numerous news crews await outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron )

A majority of Americans oppose letting employers, based on their religious views, exclude certain contraceptives from workers’ insurance coverage, says a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected on Monday.

In one of the most closely watched cases of the year, the nine-member court will weigh whether for-profit corporations may raise religious objections to a mandate in President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 healthcare law that their insurance cover contraceptives.

Record turnout for Singapore gay rally amid religious protests

(Participants form a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. The annual Pink Dot Sg event promotes an acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore, according to organizers. REUTERS/Edgar Su )

(Participants form a giant pink dot at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su )

One of the largest crowds ever recorded in Singapore for a civil society gathering turned out on Saturday at a gay rights rally, against a backdrop of noisy opposition from religious groups in the run-up to the event.

An estimated 26,000 people descended on Hong Lim Park for the “Pink Dot”, an annual event since 2009 that aims to discourage discrimination against same-sex couples.

Sectarian genie is out of the bottle from Syria to Iraq

(Shi'ite volunteers patrol the area as they take part in securing the area against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at the desert region between Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad, June 28, 2014. Iraqi party leaders planned delicate talks that could end Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's divisive rule after a top Shi'ite cleric called for a new premier to be chosen without delay to tackle Islamist rebels threatening to tear apart the country. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani )

(Shi’ite volunteers patrol an area against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at the desert region between Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad, June 28, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani )

As jihadists storm through the Sunni heartlands of Iraq towards Baghdad, where a Shi’ite government they regard as heretic clings on, they have lifted the veil on deep sectarianism which has also stoked the fires of Syria’s civil war and is spilling over into vulnerable mosaic societies such as Lebanon.

The sectarian genie is now well out of the bottle, eclipsing traditional inter-state rivalries that plague the Middle East – even if these still play a part in the drama.

Pope Francis says communists are closet Christians who’ve “stolen our flag”

(Pope Francis attends a meeting with Madagascar's President Hery Rajaonarimampianina (not seen) at the Vatican, June 28, 2014. REUTERS/Riccardo De Luca/Pool )

(Pope Francis at the Vatican, June 28, 2014. REUTERS/Riccardo De Luca/Pool )

Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity.

The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday.

He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

Flamboyant Pakistani cleric Qadri denies military backing for anti-gov’t campaign

(Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, a Sufi cleric and leader of the Minhaj-ul-Quran religious organisation, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Lahore June 26, 2014. Qadri, a flamboyant Pakistani cleric vowing to bring down the Pakistani government has denied widespread speculation that he is backed by the country's powerful military in an interview with Reuters. Picture taken June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza )

(Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, a Sufi cleric and leader of the Minhaj-ul-Quran religious organisation, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Lahore June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza )

A flamboyant Pakistani cleric vowing to bring down the country’s government has denied widespread speculation he is backed by the powerful military.

Tahir ul-Qadri flew into Pakistan this week from his home in Canada, calling for revolution following months of tension between the weak civilian government and the military.

Indian court orders arrest of cricket star portrayed as Hindu god Vishnu

India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni catches the ball during the ICC Champions Trophy group B match against the West Indies at The Oval cricket ground in London June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

(India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni catches the ball during the ICC Champions Trophy group B match against the West Indies at The Oval cricket ground in London June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown)

An Indian court has issued an arrest warrant against national cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus, according to local media reports.

The case was filed last year against the 32-year-old after the cover of an Indian magazine last year carried a picture of him portrayed as the Hindu god Vishnu.

China jails 25 members in latest sentencing of illegal Jesus cult

(Traffic wardens chat near Beijing's Tiananmen Gate at a hazy night, October 8, 2012. China risks economic malaise, deepening unrest and ultimately even a crisis that could shake the Communist Party's grip on power unless its next leader, Xi Jinping, pushes through stalled reforms, experts close to the government have warned. REUTERS/Jason Lee)

(Traffic wardens chat near Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate at a hazy night, October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A Chinese court has sentenced 25 members of a banned religious group to prison terms of up to eight years, state media said on Friday, the largest in a series of prosecutions against a group that China calls an illegal cult.

China has sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God religious movement, since the murder of a woman at a fastfood restaurant by alleged members of the group earlier this month sparked a national outcry.

Erdogan’s presidential rival, ex-OIC head, says keep religion out of politics

(Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, leading opposition candidate for August's presidential elections, meets with Republican People's Party (CHP) Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) in Ankara June 26, 2014. Last week, the secularist Republican People's Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said they had agreed to nominate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who stepped down in December as head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as their joint candidate for the presidential race. REUTERS/Umit Bektas )

(Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, leading opposition candidate for August’s presidential elections, meets with Republican People’s Party (CHP) Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) in Ankara June 26, 2014.  REUTERS/Umit Bektas )

The main Turkish opposition candidate for president stressed the need to keep religion out of politics on Thursday and called for national unity, a clear challenge to the divisive but popular Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who looks set to win.

Erdogan, a founder of the ruling AK Party which has roots in Islamist politics, is expected to announce his candidacy next week and polls suggest he will win outright on Aug. 10 when Turks directly elect their president for the first time.