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( Executive Director of Equality Utah, Brandie Balken for Scene on Monday, June 28,2010 photo:Paul Fraughton/ The Salt Lake Tribune)
Op-ed: A Hobby Lobby win would encourage discrimination in Utah

By Brandie Balken, Karrie Galloway and Maryann Martindale

First Published Mar 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 22 2014 01:01 am

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, a case that could create an unprecedented religious liberty exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s "contraception mandate" for private corporations.

The federal law requires all health insurance to cover preventive services for women, including FDA-approved birth control. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would undermine reproductive rights and anti-discrimination laws and precedent. It would allow the owner of Hobby Lobby, David Green, to decide which laws to follow — depending on his personal religious beliefs.

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Attorney General Sean Reyes signed an amicus brief in January supporting Hobby Lobby’s argument that corporations should be able to choose which forms of birth control to offer their female employees through their company-offered health insurance. Hobby Lobby, a billion-dollar craft chain, employs 21,000 and operates stores throughout Utah.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will have a direct effect on Utahns and will open the door to allow unprecedented discrimination in our state under the guise of a secular corporation’s religious freedom.

The implications of a favorable ruling for Hobby Lobby would impact much more than women’s access to preventive care. Its ruling could have wide-ranging implications for not only women’s access to birth control, but also the ability of employers to interfere with any medical decision of their employees, and much more.

It could create an untenable situation. The recent Arizona "right-to-discriminate" bill is an example of what the Hobby Lobby decision could create. If businesses are able to claim that they are religious entities, they could pick and choose which laws to follow: allowing for discrimination against people of different religions, LGBT persons, women, people with disabilities, etc. — based on moral objections. Exercising religious liberty means freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

Excluding preventive health care services for women but continuing to provide preventive health care for men is unmistakably discriminatory. In fact, ending this very form of discrimination is the intent of the contraceptive mandate. Offering a health plan to Hobby Lobby employees that includes a range of FDA-approved birth control with no co-pay does not affect Mr. Green or his family. They, like any employee, can freely rely on their personal religious beliefs to guide them in choosing the best form of birth control for their individual needs — or not.

We should all be watching the Supreme Court’s decision closely and be informed about implications of religious freedom policies that will likely be introduced in Utah. Planned Parenthood and Equality Utah echo the joint statement of our national organizations: we value the rights of all people to exercise their religion free from discrimination or interference.

Therefore, we are deeply alarmed by a sharp increase in efforts by politicians and corporations to use religious objections to allow discrimination against people of differing faiths, or with different characteristics as well as deny health care to large numbers of Americans.

Simply put, this isn’t about religious liberties. It’s about letting corporations pick and choose which laws they obey.

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Brandie Balken is executive director of Equality Utah. Karrie Galloway is CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. Maryann Martindale is executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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