So Hobby Lobby can opt out of a tax law because it does not agree with its religious beliefs. Well if you thought corporations actually worshipped the almighty dollar, you’re only right in theory because on paper, the U.S. Supreme Court says their thirst for greed should not hinder them from exercising some religion. Even if it infringes on the rights of their employees, rights signed and delivered by Congress. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for profit corporations sought an injunction to prevent the federal government from penalizing them for not offering the morning after pill (Plan B) in its health insurance plans to employees. It argued and won for protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The RFRA prohibits the federal government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion” unless it is the least restrictive rule that furthers a compelling government interest. This statute, inspired for the protection of Native American rituals, has primarily applied to individuals and religious organizations. This made sense. Take the Boy Scout v. Dale case where the Court permitted the organization to refuse homosexuals from leadership positions because it violated its right to expressive association. Applying that decision to a private corporation would amount to discrimination against a substantially large group of people. That is exactly what the Hobby Lobby decision does. It permits corporations that are generally bound by federal laws, to adopt religious practices of its owners to avoid federal law.
Additionally, the Court’s decision allowed a commercial enterprise to infringe on the rights of their employees. As Justice Ginsburg provides in her dissenting opinion, a woman’s ability to participate equally in social and economic affairs has been “facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Accordingly, Congress, after consultation with public health experts, enacted legislation responsive to the needs of women. For the Court to permit a for profit corporation to limit their employees’ ability to choose among contraceptive methods afforded to them by Congress sets a precedent that Congress’ power to legislate for fair employment is limited by an owner’s religious beliefs.
Accordingly, the Hobby Lobby decision sets a bad precedent. The RFRA should be limited to protecting a person’s actual exercise of religion. Commercial enterprises and corporations practice the law of supply and demand, and maximizing profits. They do not worship a religion, and are prohibited from inserting any specific religious beliefs on its employees. For the Court to allow a corporation to use the religious beliefs of its owners to avoid adhering to rights afforded employees undermines Congress’ ability to legislate for the best interests of America’s workers.
It is commendable that President Obama sought congressional approval to strike Syria instead of exercising discretionary power to declare war. Especially given that Congress often fights his initiatives. But if his action is merely a formality, and no matter the outcome he will strike Syria, then his attempt to deceive the nation into believing the strike was a united decision obliterates the initial accolades. Manipulating the government, even if well intended, is wrong because it is deceptive. The problem with Iraq is not being wrong about weapons of mass destruction, but that Americans believed they were deceived.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to execute all powers vested by the Constitution, which includes the President’s power to declare war. The War Powers Act requires the President to consult Congress before submitting armed forces into hostile situations. History, however, presents instances where Congress did not approve a presidential declaration of war or was not consulted prior to the President’s submission of armed forces. For example the Vietnam War, invading Grenada in 1983, and military action in Panama in 1989. Therefore in theory, the democratic government requires the President, Congress, and the people to agree and have a stake in declarations of war. In practice, however, the President can exercise his or her own best judgment.
The draft resolution to strike Syria outlines Syrian’s alleged violation of international law, using chemical weapons against its own people. It insufficiently explains the evidence that either supports Syrian’s direct use of chemical weapons, or why Assad’s assertion that rebels were the culprits is false. Additionally, it does not explain why waiting for the United Nations to review the evidence of chemical weapons before deciding whether to join U.S. efforts is inadequate. It does, however, make clear that President Obama’s goal is to ensure the U.S. acts as judge and executioner as it relates to international law violations.
President Obama’s reasoning for striking Syria may be irrelevant so long as he believes it to be America’s best interest. If democracy is voting on representatives to legislate and enforce our best interests as they see it, then whether Congress or Americans understand the reasoning for many government decisions, including war, is irrelevant. But if a democracy is voting on representatives to voice interests articulated by the American people, then understanding why his opinion is best and obtaining congressional approval ensures collective responsibility in accordance with the Constitution.
One of the most riveting shows on Black Entertainment Television was American Gangster, a television series that documented the most powerful gangsters and drug dealers in the African American community. It used upbringing to understand their behavior, while showcasing neighborhoods dying at the same rate as drug users because of the distribution of drugs. Watching the effects drugs had on families and neighborhoods in addition to the users, would make any community demand for harsher punishment of drug offenders.
But hindsight is 20/20, and while harsher sentencing sounded great at the time, for many it created more problems. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 set mandatory minimum sentences based on several factors including quantity of drug, type of drug, and extenuating circumstances like a second time offender or the presence of a firearm when drugs were discovered. For example being convicted of possession with the intent to distribute five grams of crack cocaine is a five-year sentence. For a second time offender, the sentence is ten years. If the individual is carrying a firearm, another five years is added to the sentence.
According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the guidelines created the following problems: increased the prison population 800%, cost the US billions of dollars, and was disparately applied to African Americans. The Fair Sentencing Act tried to decrease such disparity, but African Americans remain incarcerated at a higher rate than other races for drug related offenses.
Recently, the Attorney General announced that the Department of Justice will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders. He explained that what had incited the guidelines, the war on drugs, has been ineffective and unsustainable for solving the problem. He proposed replacing some mandatory sentences with drug treatment and community service programs. Is he overstepping his authority?
Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General under President Bush, disagrees with mandatory minimums but rejects Holder’s approach stating that it is the role of Congress to change law. William Otis, a former federal prosecutor, also rejected Holder’s approach arguing that the sentences have deterred certain drug offenses. This is not the first time a federal agency has used its enforcement power to change the application of federal law, but is sidestepping branches of government the answer? Though Congress during the second term of President Obama’s administration has been slow to take action, does that justify Holder’s decision not to enforce federal laws?