When I heard the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case, I was reading a novel about a future society where religious fundamentalists seize control of the government. The irony didn't escape me.
First published in 1985, Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" tells of a dystopian regime where women are second-class citizens. Wives of powerful men must allow their husbands to keep mistresses, called handmaids, whose role is to provide heirs in a world made virtually sterile by nuclear weapons.
The church/government is so involved in procreation that each mistress, who may not dress lasciviously or wear makeup, must lie on top of the wife while the husband attempts to impregnate her, all in the name of ensuring that sex is about procreation and not recreation.
The novel is satirical, but maybe not as satirical as it was before the June 30 Supreme Court decision.
Yes, I know that the high court's ruling applies only to "closely held" businesses; that Hobby Lobby is not against all forms of contraception, but just a handful that they consider abortifacients; and that the justices gave the government an opportunity to create the same sort of buffer that it currently uses for religious-oriented, non-profit organizations -- a Form 700 that allows third-party insurers to provide contraceptives directly, without involving the business.
So it's not exactly the end of the world. But.
When the Supreme Court returns to session in October, one of the significant cases it must decide is the fate of Form 700. About 50 nonprofits believe that the buffer doesn't buffer enough, that they are still morally complicit in a system of contraception that they don't believe in or endorse.
Some legal experts think tweaking the language of Form 700 might be enough to pacify these objections. Others see any change to the wording of Form 700 as another obfuscation by the great devil, Obamacare, forcing them to turn a blind eye to something they consider evil. (Contraception, not Obamacare, although it makes you wonder.)
If the high court sides with the four dozen or so faith-based charities and organizations knocking at its legal door, that leaves the government with the option to fund all birth control itself, something that Justice Samuel Alito, who sided with the majority, suggested. But that's a dicey proposition that would probably never get off the ground, given a GOP that is hellbent on destroying every aspect of the Affordable Care Act and not overly sympathetic to women's rights, anyway.
Moreover, one estimate by constitutional law scholar Marci Hamilton of Yeshiva University, quoted in an Associated Press article last week, is that more than 80 percent of U.S. corporations are closely held. The recent SCOTUS decision makes it all too possible that discrimination against women could become much more widespread if some of these companies jump on the Hobby Lobby bandwagon.
Oddly enough, many religious fundamentalists -- and even some moderates -- believe we live in a society where they are being discriminated against. Just imagine, goes their argument, a world where family-owned businesses are forced to close their doors rather than violate their consciences and serve same-sex couples or pay for medically prescribed pharmaceuticals that they oppose for their female employees?
If you wind the clock back 50 years, you find some of the same arguments used to justify denying service to people of color and to employing women in the first place. Give both groups a few freedoms and they get uppity, after all.
Of course, what should concern any proponent of the Hobby Lobby decision is not the ruling itself (unless you're a woman who works at Hobby Lobby), but the precedent it sets for other companies, big and small, to thrust their religious beliefs into medical examination rooms and bedrooms. If you were worried about Big Brother Government in the bedroom, imagine your prudish boss leering at you, instead.
Still, it's far short of the kind of religious totalitarianism practiced in "The Handmaid's Tale," at least today. Tomorrow, who knows?
Chris Schillig is an Alliance area educator and journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or cschillig on Twitter.