The Hobby Lobby Moment
36 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2014
Date Written: October 30, 2014
American religious liberty is in state of flux and uncertainty. The controversy surrounding Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is both a cause and a symptom of this condition. It suggests the unsettled nature of one of the central elements of the church-state settlement: the accommodation of religion. Beyond that, Hobby Lobby -- both the Supreme Court decision itself, and the public controversy that has surrounded the contraception mandate litigation -- raises a host of other issues: the interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the status of reproductive rights, the disputed relationship between religious liberty and LGBT rights, and the changing nature of the commercial marketplace. More broadly, the Hobby Lobby controversy says much about the relationship between law and social change.
This article explores these issues. Although it analyzes the opinions in the case, its primary focus is on Hobby Lobby as a "moment": as a stage in the life-cycle of both church-state law and the social and legal meaning of equality. An analysis of the "Hobby Lobby moment" suggests that the legal and social factors that turned a "simple" statutory case into the blockbuster of the Term lay largely outside the four corners of the opinion itself. The Hobby Lobby decision speaks to these larger controversies but does not resolve them.
After examining the legal dispute and the decision in Hobby Lobby, this article discusses the legal and social sources of the controversy that surrounded it. Legally, it finds a rapid dissolution of consensus around a key aspect of church-state law: the accommodation of religion, which has become a foregrounded subject of legal and social contestation. This contestation has been driven or accompanied by significant social change of various kinds. The article focuses on two areas of social change that figure prominently in the Hobby Lobby moment. First, although the Hobby Lobby decision itself involved an important social issue -- women's reproductive rights -- I argue that the larger controversy surrounding the case had much to do with the rise of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage and their relationship to religious accommodation. Second, I argue that the controversy involved changing views concerning the nature of the commercial marketplace itself. The paper concludes with some observations about what the "Hobby Lobby moment" teaches us about the relationship between law and social change.
Keywords: Hobby Lobby, contraception mandate, RFRA, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, religion, religious liberty, religious freedom, religious accommodation, accommodation, exemptions, corporations and religion, corporations and free exercise, same sex marriage, LGBT rights, reproductive rights
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