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UPDATED: May 9, 2015, at 10:01 p.m.
Panelists raised concerns about the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. at Harvard Law School’s annual conference on law, religion, and health on Thursday.
The June 2014 ruling exempts closely held corporations, or those with a limited number of shareholders that are usually not publicly traded, from the requirement to provide employees with free contraceptives if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
Some of the panelists—which included professors from a number of Harvard schools, a Washington Post columnist, and a former U.S. Congressman—raised objections to the Supreme Court ruling that corporations can exercise the same religious rights as individuals.
“Many across the religious spectrum assert that the pragmatic implications of giving corporations the same rights, and in this case religious protections, as persons actually serves to limit instead of enhance religious freedom,” Harvard Divinity School lecturer Diane L. Moore said.
Panelist E.J. Dionne Jr. ’73, who writes for The Washington Post, raised a moral objection to the ruling.
“One of the issues that comes up over and over here [is] who gets to exercise conscience?” Dionne said.
Law School professor Charles Fried provided context for the issue Dionne raised, pointing to a different interpretation of the protection of religious freedom under the First Amendment, which he said was not always used to challenge laws.
“It was assumed that the First Amendment had to do with beliefs and persecution of people for their beliefs,” Fried said. “[It] had nothing to do with granting exemption from what have come to be called laws of general applicability.”
Law School Dean Martha L. Minow noted that the litigants in the case had given evidence that they would leave the U.S. if they lost.
Dionne agreed that the debate is very polarizing.
“I think the word ‘balance’ is the only solution to all of the problems in this area,” Dionne said.
—Staff writer Piotr Linek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @PiotrLinek.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: May 9, 2015
An earlier version of this article miscontextualized a quote from Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow. In fact, Minow noted that the litigants in the case had given evidence that they would leave the U.S. if they lost; she did not suggest that she could imagine herself leaving the country over her religious beliefs or that others should.
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