Weaponizing Our First Amendment

June 30, 2014

Today the Supreme Court handed down two decisions employing novel, absurd interpretations of the First Amendment to undermine decades of precedent in both labor law and health care law. Below is a guide for how to talk about them.


The right wing of the Supreme Court has weaponized our First Amendment, using absurd interpretations to toss out perfectly valid, democratically-passed laws that don’t fit their political agenda.
Money is not speech. Corporations can’t pray. Your average citizen can look at these cases and see they are not even complicated, they just don’t make sense.
The right-wing Justices are ignoring Congress, ignoring the Court’s own precedents, and just making stuff up to get the result they want. That undermines the trust our whole system relies on.


Religious freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans.
Giving private corporations a religious right to dodge laws they don’t like is absurd. But that’s exactly what the right-wing justices on the Supreme Court did today.
Today we saw five old, conservative men who control the Supreme Court essentially rule that discrimination against women is not discrimination at all—it’s just freedom of religion.
Birth control is medication and a woman’s family planning decisions are not her boss’s business.
Men’s sexual health treatments are universally accepted as a part of their health care and their medical decisions aren’t second-guessed. It should be the same for women.
By limiting access to cost-free contraception, this decision will actually increase the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. A recent study found that offering cost-free contraception reduces abortion rates by over 75%.
That’s a pretty compelling justification, but not to the Court’s right-wing justices.
It’s absurd to say a for-profit corporation has a constitutional right to practice a religion. A corporation has no soul and can’t pray. Nowhere in the Bible is a business described as Christian.
This ruling opens the door to more corporate abuses of religion.
  • A corporation controlled by a Jehovah’s Witness could deny health coverage for blood transfusions;
  • A company controlled by Christians who don’t believe in marriage equality could deny benefits to a gay employee’s spouse; and
  • A corporation controlled by a pacifist could discriminate against veterans and reservists.
The majority said it opposed outcomes like this, but that’s just a testament to their intellectual dishonesty. If they were actually acting on principle, that principle would apply across the board, not just to the things they don’t like. 
Our religious freedoms are too important to allow corporations to use them as just another tool to ignore our laws.

Killer Fact: 99% of sexually active women have used contraception.


Everyone should be paid a fair wage for a hard day’s work. When workers join together through unions, they can make sure that happens.
But the Supreme Court we have today, ruled by a slim Republican-appointed majority, is putting its political agenda to empower corporations ahead of regular Americans.
The Supreme Court has long held this arrangement constitutional—this undermines 37 years of precedent. We have labor laws for a reason—they help build a strong middle class.
Unions raise workers’ compensation on average by 12%. That’s a lot more than the union fees it takes to make that happen. People who complain are out to get something for nothing.
The Court has invented a radical interpretation of our 1st Amendment that says paying for things means associating with what you pay for—so it’s a violation of your free speech rights to have to pay for things you don’t like. Only don’t get your hopes up for getting out of paying bank fees—it only applies to things the Court’s conservative wing does not like, like unions that raise workers’ wages.
This case is part of a coordinated attempt to end unions as we know them and to eliminate the rights of everyday heroes like nurses, caregivers, firefighters and cops—to give more power to corporate CEOs who care more about profits than the lives of their workers.
Today’s ruling puts unions in the guillotine. They left it for another day to drop the blade. 
We need to make sure our economy works for all Americans, and today’s Supreme Court decision is a step in the wrong direction.

 KEY:  Connect with your audience |  Make your case |  Show how your opponents differ


ATTACK: The plaintiffs don’t object to contraception coverage, they object to abortifacients.” 


  • A recent study found that cost-free contraception could reduce abortion rates by 75%, so if Hobby Lobby’s management wanted to reduce abortion, they would embrace this coverage.
  • The plaintiffs have perpetuated the medical myth that birth control methods like Plan B, ella, and IUDs are “abortifacients”—that they cause abortions. The medical profession disagrees.
  • Additional background: Hobby Lobby argue that a woman is pregnant as soon as an egg is fertilized, so they consider anything that prevents implantation an abortifacient. In fact, the morning after pill (or Plan B) and ella do not inhibit implantation, but instead block fertilization. Copper IUDs could prevent (though do not disrupt) implantation, but only when used as emergency contraception, and once again, the medical field clearly defines pregnancy from thepoint of implantation
ATTACK: “Isn’t this just about Obamacare’s big government telling common, God-fearing people how to run their businesses?


  • This case was handled by the Becket Fund, which is an activist conservative legal organization whose donors include the Koch brothers.
  • Other eyebrow raising facts: for some time before the Affordable Care Act was passed, Hobby Lobby’s health insurance covered the types of contraception to which they are now objecting. It was not until the company “re-examined its insurance policy” in the wake of the HHS contraception mandate that the company realized they had been providing coverage for these medications already. Also, the company has been silent in the face of revelations that their retirement plan invests millions in contraception manufacturers and that it does billions of dollars of business with China
ATTACK: “What’s the big deal? Can’t employees just pay out of pocket?


  • For low-wage workers, an additional $30 each month is a big deal. That’s part of the reason that a recent study found that making contraception free reduced unplanned pregnancies so much that the abortion rate dropped 75%. 
  • Long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods like IUDs, which are by far the most effective, cost up to $1,000. Imagine you and your husband have decided your family is just the right size, and you and your doctor decide that an IUD is the best option for preventing future pregnancies. Then imagine getting hit with a bill for $900 for the device and office visits because your employer doesn’t believe in contraception.
  • Right now, our system is generally one where employers provide health insurance as part of their compensation packages, but that doesn’t mean that our employers get to play doctor. Contraception shouldn’t be treated any differently than Viagra or any other prescription. 


ATTACK: “Non-union members shouldn’t be forced to pay unions for their services.”


  • Our long-standing labor law is that unions are legally required to bargain on behalf of all workers. And non-union workers are required to pay a fee for the services they get. 
  • This is a great deal for non-union employees: the unions raise wages by an average of 12%, and those non-union workers only have to pay a small fraction of that amount to reap the benefits of the union’s bargain.  
  • The right-wing activists trying to undermine this law don’t actually think that people should get something for nothing, they are just trying to weaken labor unions so corporate executives can make even more obscene profits.  
ATTACK: “There is no right to collective bargaining.”


  • Working Americans have joined together to negotiate earnings and benefits since the Great Depression to make sure that as our nation’s wealth and productivity grew, so did the income and benefits of the people who created that wealth.
  • By joining together, hardworking Americans can make sure their voices are heard — so they’re not drowned out by the powerful special interests that spend billions to rig the system in their favor.
ATTACK: “No one should be forced to join a union and pay dues to get a job in this country.”


  • No one has to join a union to get a job — that’s the law.
  • Everyone should be paid a fair wage for a hard day’s work. When workers join together through unions, they can make sure that happens.
  • The real goal of the politicians pushing these laws is to create an America where there are no unions — so there’s nobody to stand up for workers when corporate CEOs ship jobs overseas or cut their benefits.
  • It’s no surprise politicians like Mitch Daniels oppose one of the last remaining checks on the corporate special interests that fund their campaigns.
ATTACK: “Right-to-work laws will attract businesses and create jobs.”



  • majority of Americans support requiring employers to provide contraception coverage—even religious non-profits, which are currently exempted. One poll found that 61% of Americans supported the contraception coverage mandate for religiously-affiliated employers.And a majority of almost every Christian group in the US supports the idea that public and private companies should be required to include contraception coverage in their health care plans.
  • 7 in 10 Americans think insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of contraception. Corporations are not people and Americans know that. 3 out of 5 Americans think that private businesses and publicly-held corporations should have to comply with birth control coverage requirements. 
  • Nine out of ten corporations in the United States are closely-held, and can now try to claim the kinds religious exemptions in the Hobby Lobby case.
  • More than 99% of sexually-active women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used at least one form of artificial birth control. Contraception use among Catholics and Protestants is about 90%.
  • More than half of young adult women have struggled to afford birth control at some point.
  • It’s hard to imagine that a for-profit company can be religious, but it’s even harder to imagine that a for-profit company could be Christian. And Christ taught “Do not accumulate for yourselves wealth on earth” (Matthew 6:19), saying “we cannot love both God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).