EDITORIAL: Court wins for conscience rights for Hobby Lobby and for free association

Justices rule against contraceptive mandates, forced unionism

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The Supreme Court ended its term in style Monday with two blockbuster rulings curbing the abuse of political power and relieving men and corporations who have been ordered to act against conscience. Home health care providers will no longer be forced to fund political campaigns against their will, nor can companies be compelled to pay for birth-control devices and abortion under Obamacare.

These are big defeats for increasingly brazen “progressives,” as they now call themselves, who have devised clever schemes to shower money on Democratic candidates. Politicians in more than a dozen states have enacted programs to force independent contractors who are paid through Medicaid to join public-sector unions. Every new employee must pay dues, which are returned to Democratic politicians in the form of campaign donations.

Pamela Harris, a mother in Illinois, was forced to pay union dues because Illinois provides her a modest subsidy from Medicaid so she can stay at home to care for her son, Joshua, who suffers a rare genetic disorder.

In a classic case of the “Chicago Way,” Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order in 2009 authorizing the state to recognize the Service Employees International Union as an “exclusive representative” for home health care providers such as Mrs. Harris. Mr. Quinn’s order effectively swept 4,500 men and mostly women offering home care for the disabled into the unwanted embrace of government-employee unions.

Mrs. Harris didn’t want to share her modest pay with a distant union boss, so she turned to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund to argue that her First Amendment rights were violated. Legislators in Illinois defended their scheme by claiming the at-home workers enjoy the “benefits” of union representation, so they ought to pay dues.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito swept away the state’s reasoning. “The mere fact that nonunion members benefit from union speech is not enough to justify [imposition of a union] fee … ,” he wrote. “If we accepted Illinois’ argument, we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”

The Hobby Lobby case extended this principle to men and women who join together to form a corporation, saying they cannot be compelled to subsidize activity by a third party that violates their religious beliefs.

The Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of crafts stores objected to Obamacare’s insistence that the company pay for “morning-after” abortion pills, Plan B and Ella, for its employees. This requirement is one that President Obama had promised pro-life Democrats he would never impose. But that was when Obamacare was still under consideration in Congress. Once the president had the votes, his “promise” went the way of “You can keep your plan if you like it.”

Hobby Lobby’s owners, David and Barbara Green, received an ultimatum. They could either violate their sincerely held beliefs as Christians, or pay $475 million in annual government fines. Such coercion violates a 1993 law meant to protect religious believers from government bullying. “The plain terms of [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” wrote Justice Alito, “make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”

This is a small step, but one in the right direction. While Monday’s ruling will keep the government from directly compelling abortion funding, the larger apparatus of compulsion that forces men and women into inferior, government-approved health plans lives on. So, too, does the system of unionizing government employees. This gives voters something to fix in November.

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