This Supreme Court Justice Just Attacked Atheists—Here’s Why That May Be Bad For Your Health

This Supreme Court Justice Just Attacked Atheists—Here’s Why That May Be Bad For Your Health

In a recent Supreme Court decision, Justice Samuel Alito made it clear that he doesn’t much care for atheists, or anyone else who isn’t particularly religious for that matter.

Here’s what happened:

In his dissenting opinion regarding Storman v. Wiesman, one of the final opinions released on the last day of the Supreme Court’s current term, he argued for more than 15 pages that pharmacy owners don’t have enough control regarding whether women can fill prescriptions for birth control.

Alito Appeared To Target Atheists

Yes, he’s one of those kind. The kind of person who doesn’t want women to have autonomy over their own bodies. He also suggests that those who don’t believe in a god or gods are immoral. You know, those of us who happen to be atheist or agnostic.

What is Stormans v. Wiesman really about?

The issue at hand in this case should be familiar to anyone who’s followed up on the Supreme Court’s involvement in the birth control battle. In this case, the owners of a pharmacy in Olympia, Washington are against certain forms of contraception due to their religious beliefs. However, by law, pharmacies are supposed to “deliver lawfully prescribed drugs or devices to patients.” But some people who object on religious grounds want an exemption from the law—in a way that’s similar (kind of) to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and scores of other cases brought by those who object for religious reasons.

However, Stormans is different in one aspect from the Hobby Lobby case and others brought by religious folks because it seeks immunity from state regulation as opposed to a federal rule.

Cases that involve federal law fall under the auspices of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides protection for religious objectors above and beyond the protections offered by the Constitution. But state laws only have to comply with one standard that was announced by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith. 

The Constitution, Scalia said, in regards to Smith, “does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).” So a federal appeals court held that the Stormans aren’t entitled to an exemption because the law enacted in Washington state “applies to all objections to delivery that do not fall within an exemption, regardless” of whether the objection is due to religious faith or for a different reason.

However, that hasn’t prevented Alito from trying to get around this.

 “A law that discriminates against religiously motivated conduct is not ‘neutral,’” he writes, and he attempts to portray this law as one that singles out religious conduct—and only religious conduct—for inferior treatment.

“The [Washington State Board of Pharmacy] has specifically targeted religious objections,” the justice claims. “Upon issuing the regulations, the Board sent a guidance document to pharmacies warning that ‘[t]he rule does not allow a pharmacy to refer a patient to another pharmacy to avoid filling the prescription due to moral or ethical objections.’”

So what Alito did here is the judicial equivalent of a punch-up. He starts by complaining that the state “specifically targeted religious objections.” He follows that up by saying the Board’s warning that “the rule does not allow a pharmacy to refer a patient to another pharmacy to avoid filling the prescription due to moral or ethical objections,” ThinkProgress notes.

“Moral and ethical” objections are however, a different concept than “religious” objections. Alito’s opinion implies that a moral or ethical viewpoint can only stem from religious faith. It’s an offensive suggestion that, ThinkProgress notes “redefines the words ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ in an idiosyncratic way.”

But it’s more than an attempt to conflate religion with morality, because Alito also complains that are secular exemptions in the state rule but no special exemption for religious objectors. He notes that the rule allows pharmacists to turn away prescriptions “containing an obvious or known error,” and also allows them to refuse to fill “potentially fraudulent prescriptions.” And pharmacies can also require customers to pay prior to their prescriptions being filled, and they may turn away a customer if they don’t honor the customer’s insurance.

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Because pharmacies have these and other exemptions, Alito says the state must also provide an exception for those who object on religious grounds, otherwise it is unconstitutionally singling out religion for inferior treatment.

“Allowing secular but not religious refusals is flatly inconsistent with” a 1993 Supreme Court decision, the Justice said. “It ‘devalues religious reasons’ for not dispensing medications ‘by judging them to be of lesser import than nonreligious reasons,’ thus ‘sing[ling] out’ religious practice ‘for discriminatory treatment.’”

So what is really going on here?

Alito is saying that if a state wants to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill erroneous or fraudulent prescriptions, then they also have to give special rights to religious objectors. What a disgusting thought. Of course pharmacists should have the right to refuse to fill error-laden prescriptions. Alito has just stepped on the crazy train here.

Related: There Are Atheists Everywhere You Look: So Why Don’t We See Them?

So give religious objectors what they want, or else face the consequences of having laws that could very well harm your citizens. That, or at the least, there will be laws that could really make it difficult for pharmacies to run their business. Atheists seeking birth control might hurt their fluffy little feelings, those demon spawn atheists, and then be out of luck.

As wacky as this sounds, that’s really what Alito is proposing here. And it’s the biggest reason why there’s friction between atheists and our religious kin. When someone can’t get the medication they need because it offends another person’s religious insensibilities, it can actually make things precarious for that person’s health. Many women, for instance, take birth control pills to lessen the symptoms and severity of rheumatoid arthrits, endometriosis, and polycistic ovarian syndrome, and they also lower the risk a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer.

But Alito wasn’t alone in this. In his opinion dissenting from the Court’s decision not to hear this case, he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. No doubt if Scalia were still in the building, the justices would likely have to hear this case in the next term.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images