RSS
The left's bafflingly hysterical overreaction to Hobby Lobby and Harris
Relax, guys
 
These are not the end of days.
These are not the end of days. (iStock)

This week, the United States Supreme Court handed down two rulings that are a victory for the liberties of religion, speech, and association enshrined in the First Amendment. That ought to be cause for a double celebration on July 4. But instead, the rulings, issued on the narrowest possible grounds, constitute a victory so modest — and have elicited a response from the left so hysterical — that anyone serious about liberty can't help but be a little depressed right now.

The case that has attracted disproportionate attention is informally known as Hobby Lobby, and it challenged ObamaCare's contraceptive mandate. This mandate requires all for-profit companies to provide all 20 forms of birth control approved by the FDA, including pills and "abortifacients," even though they violate the Christian (Assembly of God, to be precise) convictions of the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain in Texas, who were willing to cover "only" 16.

Let me be clear: I am not some super-religious, anti-abortion, party-line conservative. Quite the contrary. I am a political independent, an atheist, and a supporter of abortion rights. I believes that because the mother's — and only the mother's — life is implicated in childbirth, she ought to have the sole and unrestricted right to decide whether to get pregnant or proceed with a pregnancy.

That said, the right to birth control and abortion does not entitle women to force Hobby Lobby to pay for these things any more than Hobby Lobby's religious liberties entitle it to force women to pay for its speaking-in-tongues get-togethers.

Yet instead of simply affirming the owners of Hobby Lobby's broad constitutional right not to be forced to violate their religious beliefs, the justices ruled in the company's favor only because not doing so would have violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

All that the act requires is that before violating someone's religious liberties, the government demonstrates that it had no other way to achieve its ends. In this case, the "conservative" justices questioned neither the end — provision of contraceptives — nor whether it was a "compelling state interest." These fanatics of limited government ruled only that because there were less-religious-liberty-busting ways to achieve contraceptive coverage — for example, by the government directly funding it as it's doing for religious universities and hospitals — the mandate did not meet the RFTRA test. What's more, they went out of their way to assure that the ruling applies only to "closely held" companies whose religious convictions are co-extensive with their business practices, not to publicly owned corporations with diffuse ownership.

To placate concerns that the ruling would lead us tumbling down a slippery slope, encouraging other religious dissenters to object to say, vaccination coverage, the justices wrote that in situations when "public health" concerns are implicated there might be no less onerous way to achieve government objectives than trampling religious liberties.

None of this, however, prevented the left from throwing a collective hissy-fit. Social media erupted into tiresome taunts of fascism. Ann Friedman called the ruling a "blow to reproductive rights" that made her want to issue "an outraged scream, sort of a combination groan-wail…while beating my fists against the desk on either side of my laptop." (Hey Ann, be careful: A new laptop will cost you several years' of contraceptive pills. Generic versions sell at Costco for $25 a month.)

Such moral huffing and puffing was also on display in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Harris vs. Quinn. That case involved the right of family members of disabled loved ones to offer care without having their state aid garnished by public unions. Harris, a mom who was providing home care to her 25-year-old disabled son, had sued the state of Illinois for forcing her to pay dues to a government union.

But what in the name of Jimmy Hoffa does looking after her son have to do with the union?

Apparently, because she receives state subsidies for caring for her son, Illinois, along with a dozen other states, considers her a "home health care worker." This means she must submit to the exclusive representation of a government union in collective bargaining negotiations — even though she supports neither the union nor its goals.

Although the justices acknowledged that forcing Harris to pay dues was a violation of her First Amendment rights to not associate with the union, those are not the grounds on which they ruled in her favor. They allowed the 1977 Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education ruling to stand for now, refusing to overrule its conclusion that the government was "constitutionally justified" in forcing public workers to pay union dues to maintain "labor peace" and prevent "free riding." They declined only to extend this shameful logic to home-based family members on the grounds that theses folks are not really government workers.

Ordinary mortals might rejoice at this victory for commonsense — but not Salon's Joan Walsh. To the contrary, she saw this as a victory for the "one percent" and the "plutocrat cartel" who could now avoid paying higher taxes to boost the wages of home healthcare workers, most of them low-paid women.

Never mind that the real threat to these "low-paid women" — otherwise called moms — comes not from filthy rich people, but the government itself. For example, Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins recently reported that Illinois has implemented a new program requiring these moms to call the government twice a day to clock in and clock out. If they don't, they are technically overbilling the government and risk being fired from their job as a "caregiver" and being replaced by a real government worker.

This shows that what's really insidious about attempts to classify moms as state workers and force them to pay union dues is not that their First Amendment rights are violated. It is that it turns the whole notion of a safety net on its head, redefining the relationship between the government and the citizenry.

If Harris is a government worker, she is no longer appealing to the government for help as a private citizen in the discharge of the private responsibility. Rather, she is helping the government to perform its responsibility of taking care of her son, essentially turning him into a ward of the state first and her son second.

Such de facto socialization of intimate family roles and responsibilities should be cause for alarm in a free society because it is far closer to Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale dystopia that the left fears will stem from the Hobby Lobby ruling. (Atwood's sci-fi novel imagines life in a totalitarian Christian theocracy where religious dictators control copulation in accordance with their religious mission.)

So there is a reason to get drunk this Independence Day — just not in celebration.

 
Shikha Dalmia is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. She is a Bloomberg View contributor and a columnist at the Washington Examiner, and she also writes regularly for Reason, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and numerous other publications. She considers herself to be a progressive libertarian and an agnostic with Buddhist longings and a Sufi soul.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week