The SCOTUS Ruling on Peyote that Helped Hobby Lobby Win

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Perhaps the most closely watched case before the Supreme Court this session came down yesterday with a 5-4 split decision that allows some privately held companies to opt out of a federal mandate to offer health insurance that includes birth control.

The court ruled in favor of two Christian-owned companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. The businesses challenged Affordable Care Act provisions requiring them to provide contraceptive benefits for their employees. 

The key component of the Court's majority decision is a decades-old law passed by Congress in 1993 called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It says that if there is another way to accomplish the government's purpose with a lesser restriction on religious liberty, that is what is required.

RFRA was adopted to counteract the 1990 Supreme Court case Oregon v. Smith in which two Native American men were denied unemployment benefits because they were fired for smoking peyote as part of a religious ritual. That landmark Supreme Court case established that the government is free to enact laws that interfere with an individual's religion so long as it applies to everyone and doesn't single out a specific group.

The ruling set off a firestorm of protests and put in motion a series of events that led to yesterday's Hobby Lobby decision.

Carolyn Long, the author of “Religious Freedom and Indian Rights: The Case of Oregon v. Smith," explains the details of the case and how the decision from years past impacted the Hobby Lobby ruling. 


Carolyn Long

Produced by:

Megan Quellhorst


T.J. Raphael

Comments [4]

Bush v. Gore - A recount cannot be run fairly for Bush and therefore must be stopped.

Voting Rights Act - The data is too old.

Hobby Lobby - Corporations have religious views that must be respected.

SCOTUS is most certainly determining outcomes before considering facts. Their problem is that they believe themselves to be impartial. Consistency and common sense are what are really under attack. This decision is 'through the looking glass' and we will all be sorry about it one day.

Muslim-owned business free to implement sharia law? Sunday blue laws obliterated? Use of force authorizations that disregard religious beliefs. This is gonna be an interesting decade.

Jul. 01 2014 03:57 PM

I didn't know the Church administered sacramental peyote by smoking.

I didn't even know you could consume it that way. I thought it had to be ingested (bringing its own side effects).

Tangential as it is, perhaps you could bring us a little clarification on this story, in the context of Oregon v. Smith and religious freedom, of course.

Jul. 01 2014 01:06 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

"We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. - Carlos Castenada.

Jul. 01 2014 11:48 AM

The more one actually understands the details of the underpinnings of the one vote majority in this decision, the more clear it becomes that the majority has stretched logic, the law, common sense and common human decency to the breaking point.

Let's face it, this decision was 100% ideologically driven. The SCOTUS has totally usurped and perverted the intent of the law...and turned the principle of religious freedom on its head by allowing a small number of business owners to impose their religious belief system upon thousands of innocent female employees.

Kennedy's four page concurrence is a legal joke. He suggests that the executive branch somehow negotiate with the insurance industry...or somehow compel them, to simply continue the coverage at their own expense. Even if that somehow was done...the door then would be open to more of these decisions opening the class of aggrieved corporate religionists even more BS opportunities to cut costs by claiming a religious exemption from ACA.

President Obama is a constitutional lawyer, a teacher and a great communicator with access to a massive bully pulpit and all manner of skilled assistance. He should deliver a lengthy 2 hour speech in which he goes over the whole history of the Smith case and the legislative history of RFRA along with a critical analysis of the majority in which uses Ginsberg's utter evisceration of a dissent as he basis for a plain English presentation to the American people that is both the law and about the politics and the underlying VALUES that are driving the dynamics the led to this abomination.

Obviously, only a few million people would watch and attend closely to the whole speech....but the fallout would be massive and positive.

The chief reason that the Republicans/Tea Party/American Taliban Party has been able to get away with their agenda...despite the reality that they do not represent the views and values of the majority of Americans is because their minority is active and it votes! Most of America has become so divided, disgusted, distracted, disillusioned and downright damned discouraged that they don't bother to register, let alone vote.

No matter what Obama does....the reality is that the House Republicans will continue to abuse their majority to sabotage and the Senate Republicans will abuse their minority to filibuster.

We are way past ordinary conventional politics. If the American Taliban/ALEC/NRA party has its way....they will degrade America into a kind of authoritarian fascistic theocracy....that's where we are headed unless the majority becomes enCOURAGED and activated enough to actually VOTE!!!

This 5 to 4 Hobby Lobby decision is just one cell of a systemic great speech by the president won't fix this....but as part of a massive national struggle, such a speech can serve as an activating factor that can wake up many many millions of folks who have essentially given up on transformative change.

Jul. 01 2014 11:06 AM

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