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OPINION - Hobby Lobby: when rights collide

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) What happens when peoples' rights collide? That's a common theme in court cases. The legendary Sam Sheppard trial is an obvious example. (It's the case the inspired the fictionalized story of The Fugitive .) He had a right to a fair trial; the media had a right to cover the trial. Those rights collided. The courtroom became a circus.

We've correctly settled these conflicts. A defendant's rights, whose personal liberty is in jeopardy at a trial, trumps the media's rights to trial coverage.

The Hobby Lobby case is also a when-rights-collide, although it's much easier to resolve. The owners of Hobby Lobby are deeply religious. Their stores are closed on Sunday. They have moral objections to morning-after drugs. Their employees have a right to health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. These rights are in conflict.

For starters, we need to cut through the thicket of faulty language. Supporters refer to morning-after drugs as "emergency contraception". Clever, but that's not what they are. These are drugs that make a woman's womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg. And there lies the problem for those who believe life begins at conception. The other language-stretch is considering contraception to be health care. It is, only in the sense that toe nail clippers might be stretched into being considered surgical tools.

So whose rights win out?

This is not even close. The religious claims trump the health care claims. Religious liberty is a Constitutional right. Health care is not a right at all -- at least not a stated right in any of our nation's legal text. The Affordable Care Act gives us the right to buy health insurance (in the form of a mandate with a penalty for those who don't). As for the "right" to contraceptives -- forget it -- most of the specific coverage requirements for health insurance policies are orders from the HHS Secretary, which can come and go based on who's in the White House.

Unquestionably, the Constitutional right is the higher order.

There is also a less formal who-can-get-out-of-the-other' s-way test. There is no remedy for someone who is ordered to violate their religious beliefs. There is an easy remedy for someone who is denied coverage for birth control: they can go to Walgreens and buy it for themselves for about $9 a month.

My biggest concern is such an obvious case was decided in a 5-4 ruling.

Chris Conley
7.1.14