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Propaganda war continues in Hobby Lobby aftermath

WASHINGTON — The propaganda wars that have ensued following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case show no signs of abating as supporters and critics of the decision lay out their interpretations of what it means.

Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby before the high court, called out the motives of opponents of the ruling in an email to supporters.

"Why are they making these false claims? It is all political theater. This is the reality: The Supreme Court decided in favor of religious liberty," she wrote.

The 5-4 ruling, handed down on June 30, said employee health plans at privately held, for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby can exclude some forms of contraception mandated under the Affordable Care Act, if the firm's owners have religious objections. Almost immediately, some in Congress called for repeal of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, claiming the court had interpreted RFRA too broadly.

But a bill sponsored by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray, Washington, and Mark Udall, Colorado, to block RFRA from applying to federally required health insurance benefits failed a key vote on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The story noted that "Democrats have seized on the birth control issue as they look ahead to November with hopes of energizing voters, especially women, to preserve the party's Senate majority."

Ironically, Murray voted in favor of RFRA when it passed on a 97-2 vote in 1993, her first year in the Senate.

Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Murray said, "Women should call the shots when it comes to their health care decisions. Not their boss. Not their government. Not anyone else. Period. … Five men on the Supreme Court rolled back the clock on women across America."

But Heritage Foundation policy analyst Sarah Torre, writing at The Daily Signal, said these claims ring hollow.

"RFRA has not, like Murray and others claim, offered a blank check for religious believers to do whatever they want in the name of religion," she wrote. "Neither did the court’s decision. … Nor did the Supreme Court’s decision strike down the HHS mandate."
Writing in the Bossier, Louisiana, Press newspaper, Debbie Lynn Hollis, president of the local National Organization for Women chapter, accused Hobby Lobby of hypocrisy for providing coverage for vasectomies for male employees and, through its 401(k) plan, investing in manufacturers of "the same birth control it refuses to cover for its female employees."

Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle reponded with an explanation that the nationwide craft store chain, which is self-insured, doesn't run a mutual fund but outsources its 401(k) plan to a company that provides mutual funds, some of which happen to invest in companies that make birth control.

The Becket Fund's Arriaga wrote Hobby Lobby’s health plan covers "all HHS-required contraceptive methods that do not have a demonstrated risk of destroying a newly created human life — including sterilizations for women."

Fact checkers took apart Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, who suggested the decision gave employers sweeping control over the private lives of their workforce: "You know, what I am objecting to is that these bosses should not be able to tell their employees that they cannot use birth control. Motherhood is not a hobby. That is what I am objecting to," Moore said on MSNBC on July 1, according to the Washington Examiner.

The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler wrote that "Moore … falls into the trap of claiming that corporate bosses can now dictate whether women can have access to birth control. No boss under this ruling has the right to tell an employee that they cannot use birth control. That’s simply wrong, but Moore’s spokeswoman argued this is open to interpretation."

Another interpretation of the ruling is by gay rights groups that fear the Hobby Lobby ruling will be used to justify discrimination against LGBT employees.

Writing at The Atlantic's website, Molly Ball asserted: "A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action. … To these religious leaders, Hobby Lobby ought to prompt the White House to re-examine the way it weights religious rights against other priorities."

But self-described liberal columnist Kirsten Powers wrote in USA Today that the letter "has nothing to do with the Hobby Lobby ruling. This should have been obvious. There is no scenario in which 14 diverse leaders of anything would sign off on a letter within hours of a Supreme Court ruling."

She added, "Without an exemption in Obama's executive order (prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace), we could see many religious organizations that provide social services to the most needy losing government contracts because they act on the dictates of their faith."

Responding to critics of the Hobby Lobby decision in The Wall Street Journal (a subscription may be required), GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire, and Deb Fischer, Nebraska, say the Supreme Court's permission to employers is clearly defined.

"The court's majority opinion explicitly states that the ruling does not 'provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice,’ ” they wrote. "Additionally, the court said that 'our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer's religious beliefs' — meaning, you must show a legitimate religious objection."

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner