Women's rights

  • June 30, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    Two things stand out to me about this morning’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants “religious” for-profit corporations an exemption from regulations requiring businesses to include coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans:

    First, the majority opinion attempts to hold itself out as a limited, cautious one. A closer look, however, shows that it is no such thing.

    Second, even though Justice Kennedy joined the five-justice majority opinion, his separate concurring opinion indicates that he disagrees with the majority in important respects. In such circumstances, a Justice normally joins a colleague’s opinion only in part, at most. Justice Kennedy’s imprudent joinder of the majority’s entire opinion will likely lead to mischief and confusion in the lower courts.

    Applicability to for-profit corporations

    The majority’s analysis begins with the conclusion that RFRA protects the religious “beliefs” of for-profit corporations, even though it is quite doubtful that the senators and representatives who voted for RFRA expected it to extend that far.

    The majority attempts to “limit” its ruling on this issue by stating that it is addressing only closely-held for-profit corporations here, and that it is not deciding whether RFRA also covers publicly-traded corporations.  But a reading of the majority’s reasoning on this issue — including its explanation that the word “person,” as used in RFRA, is defined as covering all corporations by a law called “the Dictionary Act” — leaves no doubt that the same result will ensue in the case of publicly-traded entities.

    The majority’s real attempt to answer concerns about extending the coverage of RFRA to all for-profit entities is to say: “don’t worry about it,” it’s unlikely that a publicly-traded corporation will attempt to impose religious requirements on its employers because it probably won’t be able to agree internally on any particular religious belief. This should not be of comfort to employees.

    Perhaps smaller, minority religions will not be able to impose their religious views on employees through publicly-traded corporations. But there is no reason to be confident that the religious views held by the majority of persons wealthy enough to own stock, at least in a particular industry or field, won’t give rise to RFRA claims by large, publicly-traded entities. In other words, employees need only worry about being subjected to majority religious views, of the better-off.

  • June 12, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Today, four U.S. Senators sent an open letter to Washington Post columnist George Will, after he penned a column dismissing rape and sexual assault as a major problem on college campuses.  Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Robert Casey and Diane Feinstein condemned Will for his irresponsible idea that victims of sexual assault enjoy “a coveted status that confers privileges.”

    In his column, Will disputes the statistics that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Will also claims that the definition of sexual assault is too broad, including forms of harassment other than rape. 

    The column invokes an old-fashioned blame the victim mentality, saying, “[t]hen add the doctrine that the consent of a female who has been drinking might not protect a male from being found guilty of rape.”  Will’s column, which blames progressive Washington for creating a culture of victims who make up accusations of rape and sexual assault, is dangerous. 

    What Mr. Will needs to understand is that sexual assault is real.  It ruins lives. The senators are right in saying, “There is no acceptable number of sexual assaults; anything more than zero is unacceptable.”

    Mr. Will should listen to the victims of sexual assault, not blame them. 

  • June 2, 2014
     
    Today, the Obama administration will announce new environmental regulations that will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent. The regulations represent the “strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change.” Coral Davenport at The New York Times explains how the action will affect environmental health and its implications for the American electricity industry.
     
    Pro-choice activists are working to counter the growing anti-abortion legislation sweeping the country as many expect the issue to reach the Supreme Court next term. Sophie Novack and Sam Baker at The National Journal explain why, if the issue reaches the Court, pro-choice activists may be “on the verge of a massive gamble.”
     
    At Bilerico, John M. Becker discusses Justice Anthony Kennedy’s response to the National Organization for Marriage’s recent efforts to block same-sex marriage in Oregon.
     
    A six-year old girl is recovering from being a victim of a stray bullet while playing at a local Washington, DC playground. NPR’s All Things Considered addresses how gun violence continues to trouble America’s inner cities. 
  • May 30, 2014

    Acclaimed writer, poet and professor Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86. In a life that inspired many influential figures of the twentieth century including Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Angelou eloquently merged the lines between artist and civil rights activist. Adam Serwer at MSNBC celebrates the legacy of an American hero. 
     
    Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that would close many of the state’s remaining abortion clinics. Writing for Salon, Katie McDonough comments on what the legislation could mean for women throughout the region.
     
    Alicia A. Caldwell at The Associated Press notes the Obama administration’s decision to delay a review of the nation’s deportation policy until the summer in an attempt to pressure Congress to act on immigration reform.
     
    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s IQ requirements were too strict in assessing whether or not a prisoner was mentally competent enough to be executed. At The New York Times, Adam Liptak breaks down Hall v. Florida
  • May 6, 2014

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the First Amendment was not violated when monthly board meetings in Greece, New York were opened with a Christian prayer. In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the ruling would “strike a heavy blow against the nation’s tradition of religious pluralism, and will lead to prayers that will actively promote a single faith’s religious values.” At The Daily BeastGeoffrey R. Stone, former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter, breaks down the decision. At The Atlantic, Garrett Epps reveals how the court’s decision “shows how far the ground has shifted under the Establishment Clause in the last 30 years” while Dahlia Lithwick at Slate prepares her readers to “get ready for a lot more Jesus in your life.”  
     
    In the wake of Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton D. Lockett, the White House “has commissioned yet another study of lethal injections.” Writing for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen explains why President Obama “would be better off lobbying the Supreme Court and Congress to make changes.”
     
    At The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports on a new study which reveals that Justice Antonin Scalia “voted to uphold the free speech rights of conservative speakers at more than triple the rate of liberal ones” while David S. Joachim reports on the “pivotal” Republican primaries in North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky and what they could mean for the 2014 midterm elections.
     
    At Womenstake, Michelle Banker comments on a Guttmacher Institute study which shows that “more bills to protect access to abortion have been introduced thus far in 2014 than had been introduced in any year for the past 25 years.”