Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hobby Lobby and the levers of power

It was probably the wrong day to give up coffee.  

This week, we woke up to another infuriating ruling by our Supreme Court.  

Ostensibly, the "Hobby Lobby decision" was about certain religiously conservative business owners, who felt that the religious beliefs of their corporation (huh?!) should be insulated from the laws crafted by Congress and its voters.

This ruling brought out a rich outpouring of commentary from many directions, lamenting, among other things:

  • the assertion that powerful men's religious sensibilities are more important than working women's health and autonomy
  • the bizarre notion that corporations can hold religious beliefs, and that those beliefs earn Constitutional protection
  • that unlike the rest of us, business-religion gives one the ability to opt out of laws, even if they only indirectly burden a "conscience"
  • a culmination of the Catholic Church's long project of placing religious doctrine above secular law
  • a table being set for a legal establishment of discrimination rights against gays, Muslims, and others

and so on.

All those things are true, but I think they are also window dressing for the larger project.  The 5 radical members of the Supreme Court are barely bothering to disguise the fact that their overriding goal is to help install oligarchy in the US and to place powerful men and their corporations securely above democratic control.

The courts interpret the Constitution and rightly place limits on the dictatorship of the majority.  Since the document is expressly protective of basic rights, it has often served to protect liberty from momentary, unenlightened swerves of public opinion - and at least it offers a helpful ramp up and away from oppression, whenever such is finally wanted and needed by enough people (see civil rights movement, women's suffrage).

US democracy might still have the potential to unwind the ongoing movement toward a corporate and elite oligarchy.  And for that reason, democracy itself must be neutered, and in an Orwellian twist, the Constitution must be re-interpreted as an instrument to tie the hands of the people.

The Court recently ruled that showering politicians with money is not corruption, but is in fact political "speech," protected by the Constitution and so beyond our right to interfere with.  (There are few in this country, with the exception of would-be oligarchs and the lackeys who work for them, who believe that money has not corrupted the political process.)  Remember, this is not the court just saying such corruption is OK, it is the court saying that we, as a democratic society, have no right to make laws to interfere with this corruption, even if we disagree and believe it is not OK.

The Hobby Lobby is another step forward in this project.  The Court has been laying the groundwork for making each corporation into a kind of "super person" - one whose liberties must be protected by the Constitution - a super person who has free speech to exercise and sincere religious beliefs that must be respected - a super person who must be protected from the general populace's (heretofore widespread) belief that corporations ought to be subject to specific legal controls and even expected to contribute to a common good.

Americans have woken up to the knowledge that our democracy has been hijacked.  The Court is rushing to make sure that if we attempt to reign in these men, their corporations, and the political power they have bought, the legal and political terrain is arrayed against us.  This week's effort, which made a mockery of the Constitution's protection of religious liberty, should be understood in that light.