Just when we thought the rights of women, workers and minorities faced enough setbacks, it appears the nation's highest court has done it once again.
In an outrageous decision today, the Supreme Court ruled (Hobby Lobby case) that closely held corporations are not required to provide a full range of contraceptive coverage to their employees as mandated under the Affordable Care Act. In other words, the Court decided that owners of some for-profit businesses can cite religious objections against providing certain contraceptive coverage for their employees. In effect, these bosses will be able to dictate what employees want and need to do concerning their own reproductive decisions. Removing a woman's control over her own body is the definition of injustice, and it is yet another devastating blow to equality in this country.
The Supreme Court also ruled against public-sector unions today, limiting their ability to deduct dues from workers. After immeasurable sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears in the civil-rights movement, the women's-rights movement and the organized-labor movement, how can we ever accept these insults in 2014?
As a preacher who has spent significant time in churches and houses of worship all across the country, I can tell you firsthand that religious liberty and freedom are principles that can never be infringed upon. But that being said, let me also state this loud and clear: No entity should be allowed to force their beliefs onto others. Yes, we are a nation that cherishes religious freedom, but we are also a nation that cherishes the protection of its citizens -- all its citizens. Just because the owners of a business hold certain views, that does not allow them to discriminate against employees who don't believe the same. The fact that we must even highlight this concept is incomprehensible. Despite what some will have you believe, corporations aren't people; the real people deserve protections under the law. And the Hobby Lobby decision does the complete opposite.
Let's delve even deeper into this issue. The provisions under the Affordable Care Act that require private companies to provide insurance that covers birth control are in place so that women can no longer be discriminated against when it comes to health coverage. By effectively removing this protection, women -- specifically those who do not work for a high-powered company -- receive inadequate care. The Hobby Lobby decision is nothing but intrusive, discriminatory and offensive. And on the heels of last week's ruling striking down buffer zones around clinics that provide abortion services, the Supreme Court is sending a strong signal to women in this country: You are not equally protected under the law.
Today's decision is a dangerous slippery slope. If companies can refuse to provide coverage for women, what other objections to the Affordable Care Act will we see based on "religious grounds"? For that matter, will "religious freedom" be used as an excuse to discriminate against other minorities and disenfranchised groups across the board? Where will it end?
The Supreme Court is protecting corporations and employers over employees. And at the same time, in the Harris v. Quinn case, it has delivered a blow to public unions. By limiting their ability to automatically deduct dues, the Court is setting up a scenario where public workers may opt out of these dues and yet still benefit from union bargaining and contracts. It is the beginning of the disruption of unions. Because dues cover expenses, overhead and more, unions will not be able to provide the same services without these funds. Workers will once again suffer while the corporations maintain their own protections and privileges.
It was almost exactly one year ago that the Supreme Court gutted a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act. And what happened almost immediately afterwards? Several states enacted harsh new voting requirements like voter ID laws. Many pundits and others acted as if the Court's decision didn't invalidate the Voting Rights Act, but those of us who have fought and advocated for equality knew exactly what it meant. And now we are seeing the same tactics being applied in these two cases whose decisions were announced today. It may be slow chipping, but make no mistake: The rights of women and workers are being stripped away piece by piece.
The Supreme Court's majority has very clearly shown where its interests are -- and they are not with the people. The protection of employers and corporations should never supersede the protection of women, men, children, minorities and workers of this country. Let this very moment serve as a reminder of why it is so utterly crucial to vote in all elections, and why we must mobilize to push back against these regressive decisions immediately.
Otherwise, you may as well leave your rights at the door.
Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl