The Times and Fantasy Legal Theories

The Times has put forth yet another magisterial editorial denouncing the Church for our failure to get up to date with the Brave New World of contraception.  They seem particularly outraged that people who have a moral objection to contraception — and to being forced to pay for it and promote it — would dare to take their case to court.  This is odd, since the Times usually seems to like it when people bring the courts into constitutional and moral disputes.

Of course, you can’t really expect much sense from the Times’ editorial board, so the item itself isn’t really worth responding to in any detail.  But one point in the article caught my attention, and I wrote a letter to the editor about it.

The point that struck me was their comment about a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.  The court was ruling on a legal challenge to the HHS contraception and abortifacient mandate. The case was brought by Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business run by Christians who object to being forced to promote practices and products against their moral beliefs.  They cited the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.   This case is similar to 60 other cases brought against the mandate.

In their editorial, the Times quoted a law professor who is a consistent adversary of the Church in the public square:

Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo School of Law and an expert on the Restoration Act, rightly called the 10th Circuit’s interpretation of the law “a fantasy” that badly undermines rules forbidding corporations from discriminating on the basis of religion.

The professor’s comment is more interesting for what she omitted, than for what she said.  Hence my letter to the editor, which follows:

In your July 1 editorial, “The Contraception Battle”, you commented on the recent decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recognized a private business’ free exercise rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in a challenge to the HHS contraception mandate.  You quoted Prof. Marci Hamilton to say that this decision was based on a “fantasy” legal theory.  Perhaps by “fantasy”, Prof. Hamilton actually meant “a legal theory that has already been accepted in 22 separate lawsuits by federal district and appeals courts around the nation”.  That fact — which is not a fantasy at all — might have been useful for you to mention to your readers, so that they could understand the full picture of what is actually happening in court, when people seek to defend their constitutional rights against government overreaching.  We understand that you disagree with those rulings, but you should at least acknowledge that your opinion has already been rejected by most of the federal courts that have considered these cases.

Yes, that’s correct — what the professor called a “fantasy” is a legal principle that has been found persuasive by at least 22 federal courts so far.  It actually is not that odd a concept — people don’t surrender their constitutional rights because they choose to carry on a business.

You might have expected the Times to give their readers the full context of the story.  Well, actually, I don’t expect it, since I never expect fairness from the Times.

What’s most interesting to me is the ideological blinders that the Times wears on this particular subject.  The Times itself is a for-profit corporation, and they ardently defend their own First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press.  Isn’t it strange that in the fantasy legal world of the Times, other organizations aren’t permitted to enjoy their own First Amendment rights — especially when they disagree with the Times?

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