Where will it all end? “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Alito writes. There is no limit to religious requirements and restrictions in our land of a thousand “faiths.” Several companies have already filed cases that object to all forms of contraception, not just the four singled out by Hobby Lobby, and the day after the decision the Court clarified that its ruling applied to all methods. And why draw the line on legal exemptions at religion anyway? Plenty of foolish parents now risk their children’s lives and the public’s health because they reject vaccines on “philosophical” grounds. What happens when Aristotle, the CEO, claims that birth control—or psychotherapy or organ transplants—goes against his “philosophy”?
Justice Alito’s opinion is canny. Slippery slope? No problem: “our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. 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.” He specifically mentions vaccines, blood transfusions and protection from racial discrimination as being in no danger, but he gives no argument about why Hobby Lobby’s logic would never apply. In other words, birth control is just different. Of course, it’s about women. Anyone could need a blood transfusion, after all, even Alito himself. And it’s about powerful Christian denominations, too, to which this Court slavishly defers—for example, in the recent decision finding no discrimination in the Christian prayers that routinely open town council meetings in Greece, New York.
One little quibble about a point Brian Leiter makes toward the end of the interview. He says the US doesn't protect freedom of secular conscience in the way it protects freedom of religious conscience, except with respect to wartime conscientious objectors. But in fact, at Pollitt notes, many states are now allowing "personal belief" exemptions for parents who don't want to vaccinate, in addition to religious exemptions. On the one hand, hurray, equal rights for the secular conscience! On the other: this is just more of a really bad thing. Perhaps the right thing to say here is that in cases where freedom of religious conscience should be limited, because it's trumped by collective interests, there's nothing good about also allowing freedom of secular conscience.