Would you believe it if someone told you God objects to birth control?

Apparently it’s true, because those who speak to Him often have assured us that he does in fact condemn any and all types of family planning. So strong is his opposition that he has ordered his messengers here on earth to do whatever they can to ensure women’s access to birth control is obstructed.

And the process is moving along quite nicely, thanks to a handful of U.S. Supreme Court justices who try to do the Lord’s bidding whenever they can—or at least the bidding of the conservative Christians who spend time on Skype and Google Hangout chatting Him up each and every day.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. —Birth Control on Trial

Guided by their profound respect for the citizenship rights of corporations in addition to their dedication to protecting the truly righteous from the evil federal government, in the now famous—or infamous, depending on your perspective—Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. case, the U.S.’s most powerful judicial body issued a landmark ruling that exempted religious corporations who offer health insurance plans to their employees from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate (it’s supposed to be covered).

Did you know that corporations, despite their lack of an actual physical existence, could be religious? That they could worship something besides money? Well they can, say the Supremes, and if they don’t want to provide insurance coverage to help their workers purchase birth control for family planning purposes, they don’t have to. And they don’t need a note from their Lord and Savior to get that exemption, either—they just have to say that providing contraception will cause a substantial burden on their religious freedom and that will be enough to get them off the hook.

The Supreme Court’s historic June 2014 ruling closed the book on a 2012 lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City’s Green family, on behalf of their corporation Hobby Lobby, Inc. (it’s a chain of stores that sell arts and crafts, for those not in the know). The Greens are evangelical conservatives Christians who claimed the ACA’s birth control mandate made it impossible for them to stay loyal to their religious beliefs, since the ACA includes IUDs and so-called “morning after” pills on their list of required contraceptives. According to the Greens’ hired mouthpieces, these particular contraceptives, which are used after sex, cause de facto abortions and are therefore offensive to the Greens’ anti-abortion sentiments.

Now, scientists who’ve studied these contraceptives in controlled conditions say they don’t cause abortions and that allegations they do are based on outdated science. But these eggheads belong to the same scientific establishment that claims we’re all descended from monkeys and that the earth is older than 6,000 years, so what the heck do they know, anyway?

In making their claims of religious persecution, Hobby Lobby attorneys said the birth control mandate violated the corporation’s rights as established in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. This statute was designed to enhance the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) in order to prevent government overreach in borderline cases. The RFRA was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton following a pair of Supreme Court decisions that upheld the government’s right to trample on the religious freedoms of Native Americans in certain circumstances (the Court said it was okay for the U.S. Forest Service to build an access road through sacred Indian land and that is was okay for the state of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to two Native Americans who were fired for testing positive for peyote after using it in a religious ceremony).

So the RFRA was intended to protect citizens from the government, not for-profit corporations from the sinful behavior of their employees. But the Green’s attorneys were smart enough to realize that if you throw a Hail Mary into the unpredictable, politically-charged court system someone might reach up and grab it, including some of the right-wing bench legislators currently serving on the Supreme Court (there’ve been left-wing bench legislators on the Court, too—that phrase is an equal opportunity insult). And sure enough, once Justices Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito got their hands on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. they couldn’t resist the temptation to make a little history (by the way, I’m not listing those five as the Hobby Lobby supporters because I actually took the time to look it up. That wasn’t necessary; every time the Supreme Court rules in favor of some conservative radio/Fox News talking point it’s always by a 5-4 margin and the ‘yes’ votes always come from those same five dudes).

Regardless of its coherence or validity, the anti-birth control, anti-science ruling in Burwell was a milestone because it was the first time the Supreme Court had ever used a private corporation’s artificial personhood as an excuse to offer it First Amendment religious freedom protection. The scope of the ruling was limited to apply to only “closely-held” corporations, where the companies are managed directly by the owners and not by stockholders or hired executives. But in affirming the assertion that a for-profit corporation has the same right to religious freedom as an individual or a church, the Supremes have set a precedent that will allow other corporations to sue any government body that offends their delicate spiritual sensibilities with policy prescriptions that promote women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the rights of non-Christian religious minorities or the rights of those who nauseate the Almighty by voting for Democrats.

‘We Don’t Care if They Really Believe It, It’s Still Discrimination!’

The Court’s majority opinionators were careful to explain they were not judging the sincerity of the Hobby Lobby owners’ claims of being religiously offended by contraception. If they had, it might have been hard for them to issue the decision they did with a straight face, since Hobby Lobby’s old health insurance plan actually paid for the contraceptives Plan B and Ella—a.k.a “morning after pills”—and continued to do so right up until the time the ACA mandate came on line. Only after they decided to file a lawsuit against the hated Obamacare did they suddenly—and literally—find religion about these drugs. And even after they filed the suit, Hobby Lobby’s 401 (k) retirement plan continued to hold more than $73 million worth of investments—with healthy matching contributions from the company itself—in pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell all types of contraceptives as well as drugs used in actual abortions. So the Green family’s religiously-inspired abhorrence to birth control and abortion apparently comes and goes depending on which way the profits are flowing.

But the Supremes wisely avoided opening up that can of worms. Instead, to justify their odd conclusion that family planning suppresses religious practices, the Supreme Court’s right-wing bench legislators focused on a section of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that requires the federal government to use the “least restrictive method” to implement laws that may inadvertently interfere with someone’s spiritual practice. According to the majority judges in the Hobby Lobby case the government could have paid for the contraception coverage themselves instead of making Hobby Lobby do it; or they could have required Hobby Lobby’s insurance company to cover birth control separately.

After the Hobby Lobby decision, the government did in fact choose the second option, which they were already using with churches that were exempted from the birth control mandate because of their religious practices (unlike corporations, churches do have an inseparable religious basis, obviously). So from now on if closely-held corporations want to opt out of the contraceptive mandate, they have to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services to let them know about it, and then it’s up to the DHHS to make separate arrangements with that corporation’s insurance provider.

Can Obamacare Beat the Little Sisters of the Poor? Let’s Hope So

This sort of sounds like a decent compromise, given the Supreme Court’s odd ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. But in the minds of some, even this indirect method for guaranteeing access to birth control for women represents an outrageous infringement on religious liberty and practice. Hundreds of corporations and religious institutions have joined in new lawsuits seeking to opt-out from the opt-out requirement, claiming it makes them complicit in a system that promotes a horrible crime against nature.

Up to now, the lower courts have not been sympathetic to this rather strained (to put it mildly) argument. But one of the plaintiffs in these cases, the Catholic charity known as the Little Sisters of the Poor (yes, that organization actually exists outside of sports metaphors) has announced its intention to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court following its most recent lower court setback.

Assuming the Court agrees to take up this case—and can anyone imagine them not doing so?—it will be interesting to see what type of logic bench legislators Scalia, Thomas and Alito use to justify their preordained  decision to find in favor of the plaintiffs and thereby deal another blow to the contraception mandate—and to Obamacare, which the far right hates with a passion.

But ultimately the final verdict will be decided by Justices Roberts and Kennedy, the two less predictable conservatives on the Court. Will they channel their inner Scalias and push common sense over the cliff of irrationality by finding in favor of the Little Sisters, setting another precedent that could be used to undercut women’s access to birth control even further? Or will they pull the RFRA back from the brink before the concept of religious freedom is turned into a mockery?

The Free Exercise Clause as Santa Clause, Handing out Free Goodies to Corporations

In its original First Amendment form, what comprised religious freedom was relatively straightforward and easy to understand. People were declared free to worship as they pleased and Congress was prohibited from interfering. The only confusion about this issue related to intention: if the government passed laws that unintentionally or indirectly burdened religious practice, were they still violating the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment? After a pair of Supreme Court decisions implied the government was free to burden away as long as they didn’t really mean to, Congress stepped in and passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, closing the loophole that allowed the government to violate the spirit of the Free Exercise Clause, if not its letter.

But no one expected the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be used as an excuse to extend religious rights to for-profit corporations, whether closely-held, distantly-held are barely-held-at-all. We know this because the sponsors of that act are still around and they’ve said so. None of this mattered to the Supreme Court’s conservative trend setters, however (“we’ve got ‘em on a technicality that we just made up, woohoo!”), who in one fell swoop expanded the absurd notion of corporate personhood beyond its original dubious borders, added legitimacy to discredited science (morning after pills and IUDs do not cause abortions) and dissolved the borders of religious freedom sufficiently to convert it into a malleable clay suitable for a manipulation by those with socially regressive agendas.

Not bad for one day’s work, eh?

When the Constitution Is in Flux, We’re All out of Luck

Religious freedom is a bastion of our Constitutional system, and no one disputes that it must be protected from government overreach. But even if we were to accept the absurd notion that corporations are the equivalent of persons, there is nothing in either that personhood or in its religious liberty that can justify imposing its standards on that “person’s” employees.

Hobby Lobby’s owners and the religious organizations that have filed the most recent anti-mandate lawsuits are free to believe anything they want about the immorality of abortion and birth control and sexual freedom. But to suggest those beliefs should have veto power over the personal conduct of their workers elevates religious considerations above the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to which we are all entitled as citizens—and in this instance it further strengthens corporate hegemony over our lives, as if they weren’t firmly enough in control already.

Unfortunately the members of the highest court in the land are political appointees selected for ideological purity and not for their actual qualifications, which inevitably means they will bench legislate from the right, left or center depending on their personal persuasions (a few good ones do slip in there on occasion, but if there’s anyone out there who believes Justice Scalia decides cases objectively, I’ve got some swampland in southern Utah to sell you, real cheap).  At the moment the Court manifests a right-to-right-center ideology, leaving women’s reproductive rights vulnerable to a political philosophy that is going through an extremist stage and has always been unduly influenced by fundamentalist Christianity, even during saner and more sensible times.

But if there’s ever been an instance where ideological considerations should be irrelevant, it is this one. No one’s religious freedom is impacted in the slightest by someone else’s decision to use birth control, Supreme Court decision or no. And since a corporation doesn’t even exist except as a legal abstraction, its “rights” can hardly be violated in any instance.

When important concepts like religious freedom and personhood become murky logic and common sense are compromised in the process, in the long run that puts everyone’s rights and freedoms in danger.