By Ian Millhiser
“This case is an ominous sign,” Justice Samuel Alito begins one of the final opinions released on this last day of the Supreme Court term. He then proceeds to complain for 15 pages that pharmacy owners do not have enough control over whether women can fill their birth control prescriptions. Along the way, he manages to imply that anyone who does not believe in a god or gods is inherently immoral.
The political issue underlying Stormans v. Wiesman is familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the Supreme Court’s involvement in the birth control wars. The owners of a pharmacy in Olympia, Washington object to certain forms of contraception on religious grounds, but a state regulation requires pharmacies to “deliver lawfully prescribed drugs or devices to patients.”
So people with religious objections to birth control want an exemption from the law. We’ve heard this story before.
Stormans differs from Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and many other cases brought by religious objectors seeking similar exemptions, however, because it seeks immunity from state regulation as opposed to a federal rule. Cases involving federal law are controlled by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which offers fairly robust protection for religious objectors above and beyond the protections afforded by the Constitution. State laws, however, must only comply with the standard announced by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith.
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