Perspective, Please

Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case

Below, I reflect on the astonishing success of the marriage equality movement in the last two decades. On an issue that became a must-win for the Christianist right, the American people have delivered a resounding rebuff. Think also of other profound shifts in social policy during the Obama administration: universal health insurance, to take an epic example; the shift in drug policy away from mere law enforcement; the speed with which marijuana legalization marches forward; the rise and rise of women in the economy and the academy and politics. Then consider the broad demographic shifts – the sharp increase in the religiously unaffiliated, the super-liberal Millennial generation, the majority-minority generation being born now, and a bi-racial president possibly followed by a woman president. When I see the panic and near-hysteria among some liberals in response to the Hobby Lobby ruling, I have to wonder what America they think they’re living in.

Damon Linker notes how over the long run, the religious right is still losing big – and this is the proper context to understand a ruling like Hobby Lobby:

Where once the religious right sought to inject a unified ideology of traditionalist Judeo-Christianity into the nation’s politics, now it seeks merely to protect itself against a newly aggressive form of secular social liberalism. Sometimes that liberalism takes the relatively benign and amorphous form of an irreverent, sex-obsessed popular culture and public opinion that is unsympathetic to claims of religious truth. But at other times, it comes backed up by the coercive powers of government.

That’s how the Hobby Lobby case needs to be understood: as a defensive response to the government attempting to regulate areas of life that it never previously sought to control … From advancing an ideological project to transform America into an explicitly Catholic-Christian nation to asking that a business run by devout Christians be given a partial exemption from a government regulation that would force it to violate its beliefs — that’s what the religious right has been reduced to in just 10 years.

And this is where I part company with some of my fellow supporters of universal healthcare and marriage equality. Although I disagree with Hobby Lobby’s position on contraception (I think widespread contraception is the best bulwark in modernity against the much graver problem of abortion and that sex need not be about procreation at all), I still live in the same country that they do. And in cases where values collide, I favor some sort of accommodation. Call me a squish; but I want to live in a civil polity, not a battlefield of absolutes. (As for marriage equality, I feel the same way. I just do not believe anyone’s religious freedoms are in any way curtailed by civil marriage licenses for gay people; and that no devout person’s marriage is affected either.)

Or look at it this way: with the ACA, for the first time ever, all insurance covers a wide array of contraception options.

That’s a huge step forward for social liberalism, and it was allowed by the Roberts court. A few organizations and closely-held companies want to be exempted from that coverage for religious reasons. They just got it. The administration can still respond by crafting a compromise along the lines of that given to purely religious groups, or by other methods. Yes, there’s a precedent here that could be expanded. But, as Ross notes today, Kennedy’s concurrence suggests not by much. And overall, this battle has been decisively won by secular liberals and their allies (who include many religious people as well). What’s really being done here is negotiating the terms of surrender. And in general, I think victories are more durable if they are allied with a certain degree of magnanimity.

You can read countless screeds against this decision, for example, that nowhere even mention that for some devout people, the mandate might actually be a genuine problem of conscience. Is liberalism indifferent to the conscientious dissent of minorities? The truth is: I don’t think so. But many cannot yet see that the religious right is no longer a majority, fast becoming a small minority, unable to win at the ballot box, and needing some accommodation with respect to majoritarian rule.

That used to be a liberal value. And I hope, before too long, it will again.

(Photo: Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)