by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/reaction-to-the-supreme-court-decision-in-burwell-v-hobby-lobby">Reaction to the Supreme Court Decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby</a></h1>

Prediction: The Supreme Court will rule the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and the attempts to create a barrier between patient/employer premiums and the insurance coverage are sufficient to meet the law. -Matthew Ellis, June 20, 2014

Yes, that was my prediction and it was proven wrong in no uncertain terms. I have been trying to determine how the Court could possibly find that the ‘religious views’ of a company owned by a few people are more valid than the views of their thousands of employees.

Unfortunately, this decision hit on a day when I was jammed with meetings and unable to dive into the decision. So, while I continue to gather information and formulate my thoughts, I’d like to give an initial reaction by suggesting some reading and by asking questions that the verdict raises for me (and others). First, the questions:


  1. “How does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation and which are not?” -Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

  2. The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections. [p. 47, Opinion of the Court]

    Is the Supreme Court endorsing the public option?

  3. Was the court so overly-focused on the potential indirect violation of religious freedoms of one set of Americans that they forgot to consider the actual religious freedoms of millions of others? -Rabbi Daniel Brenner

  4. Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists), among others)? -Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

  5. To what degree does an employer retain religious rights to employee compensation? Why is it acceptable for an employee to use cash from an employer to purchase these contraceptives but not insurance benefits? In either case, isn't the employer contributing to the same behavior? In the instance of health insurance, isn't the employer's contribution more removed than when the employee pays directly? 

  6. This decision seems to concentrate power for individual health decisions in the hands of the few. How does this respect the views of the individual employee? Why do the employer's religious views trump those of the employee in determining their own health care treatment?

  7. How are religious beliefs for a nonphysical entity determined? How are they changed? What is the statement and where can can it be found? How can a potential employee discover this without prejudicing the hiring process against themselves?

Further Reading:


by Sue Hacker Nelson   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/friday-roundup-062014">Friday Roundup</a></h1>

Each week, we highlight stories from our newsfeed on Prismatic. No account is required to see what we think is worth reading, so visit our profile often! We update it daily so there is usually something new to check out. Here is a sample of what we liked this week:

How to Talk to the Elderly About Tough Family Issues from Caring.com
Adult children and their parents often have trouble talking effectively. Small disagreements can be irksome and frustrating; if they simmer and grow, they can poison your last precious months and years together.  What causes these misunderstandings?

Eccentric Heiress's Untouched Treasures Head For The Auction Block from NPR
She had three apartments on New York's Fifth Avenue, all filled with treasures worth millions, not to mention a mansion in Connecticut and a house in California. But the enigmatic heiress Huguette Clark lived her last 20 years in a plainly decorated hospital room — even though she wasn't sick.

8 Cool Lunch Boxes to Make Healthy Lunch Packing a Breeze from Design Swan
It is easy to buy lunch outside but if you want to make sure your food’s quality and eat healthy, bring your own lunch is a better choice. Here we rounded up 8 Cool Lunch Boxes. No matter you need to pack lunch for kids or yourself, there must be one right for you. Take a look and start to eat healthy.

Never Too Young: Pediatricians Say Parents Should Read To Infants from NPR
Children whose parents read to them get a head start on language skills and literacy, as well as lovely cuddle time with Mom or Dad. But many children miss out on that experience, with one-third of children starting kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn to read. So the nation's pediatricians are upping the ante, asking parents to start reading to their children when they're babies.

Let us know which articles you liked (or didn't) in the comments!


by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/valuable-tornado-preparation-your-phone">Valuable Tornado Preparation: Your Phone!</a></h1>

The sky was an eerie mix of bright clouds followed by a wall of pitch black storms. As the tornado sirens blared, our phones also began beeping with loud alerts. Looking out, one could see the clouds rotating in a fascinating but disconcerting way. The staff and visitors of St. Paul's Indianapolis headed for a secure location. 

In the 45 minutes that followed last Tuesday, we would continue to receive audible alerts from our phones. It became a game to see who would be the last to be notified of updates about safety. Our rector, John Denson, was the unfortunate 'winner' of this contest. As he said, if you don't receive your tornado alert until ten minutes after the danger has passed, what good is it? Our experience this week reinforced how smartphones can help us (or not) during an emergency. 

The Tornado app from the Red Cross is an excellent resource to keep handy for those living in tornado-prone areas. You can take quizzes, make a plan, check the radar, and receive alerts based on your location. 

Other apps from the Red Cross include:

  • First Aid
  • Flood
  • Earthquake
  • Wildfire
  • Hurricane
  • Pet First Aid
  • and more!

Take the time to add the apps you need to your phone now. Remember, preparedness means having it before you need it!

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/rethink-your-drink-for-summer">Rethink Your Drink for Summer</a></h1>

I can remember when I was growing up it truly was a special treat to have a Coke. As soon as I had one, I would immediately begin scheming to get another one. What if I was extra good or helped out around the house? Would mom notice? Often, I would even point this out to her: "Why can't I have a Coke? I've been GOOD!"

Now, I'm amazed at how often kids I know drink soft drinks. Soft drinks are really unhealthy and we should be taking steps to educate our communities about the risks associated with soft drink consumption. Sodas are full of empty calories and packed with sugar or unhealthy additives.  

This summer, be conscious of your beverage choices. Choose water instead of soda every time. Here are two great resources:

  1. Rethink Your Drink Campaign

  2. 10 Tips: Make Better Beverage Choices (excellent for use as a Backdoor Reading)

  3. Kick The Can: Giving the Boot to Sugary Drinks

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/anticipating-the-hobby-lobby-decision">Anticipating the Hobby Lobby Decision</a></h1>

As a member of the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute for 2014, I have pledged to raise the voice of our faith community on issues of reproductive justice. This post is a preview of the Supreme Court's upcoming Hobby Lobby decision from my perspective.

I’ve written previously about the Hobby Lobby case pending before the Supreme Court. With a decision on the case due any day now, it’s a good time to revisit the case and make some predictions.

Vox has an efficient summary of the issues at stake in this case. In addition, Vox notes the following (Card 13):

More broadly, the birth control mandate decision could have wide-reaching implications for religious and civil rights if the Supreme Court moves to expand — or narrow — who has RFRA protection. If the Supreme Court does find that companies have standing under RFRA, it could set new precedent for business owners to challenge other federal laws they believe to restrict their practice of religion.

I think this is a critical point in determining how the Supreme Court will rule. If companies can simply choose which laws they follow according to their own moral beliefs, our system of governance becomes impossible. I think this condition alone is enough for the Supreme Court to rule the birth control mandate and its current attempts to meet the objections of some faith groups as appropriate and sufficient.

Prediction: The Supreme Court will rule the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and the attempts to create a barrier between patient/employer premiums and the insurance coverage are sufficient to meet the law.

Now that I have made my prediction on the record, I’d like to discuss in more detail why I think this case is so important.

I can’t understand why the thought of allowing your employer’s religious beliefs to have a direct say in which medications you are allowed to access is seriously being considered. Here are just a few reasons why this objection to these contraception medications is flawed:

  1. Personal health should not be determined by an employer’s beliefs. Your health is between you and your doctor, not you, your employer, and your doctor.

  2. Women access birth control medications for many reasons, only some of which are related to contraception.

  3. If the objections to these specific medications are allowed to stand, we will have a constant parade of new lawsuits as current medications are modified, new medications are created, and old medications find new purposes. This is simply untenable for patients, the medical community and lawmakers.

  4. What of more restrictive religious views? Should employers be allowed to deny blood  transfusions and other common interventions? Deny HIV treatment? 

  5. A decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would potentially dismantle one of the key benefits of the Affordable Care Act: portability of insurance. In some communities, there may be a scarce number of employers who would be willing to provide comprehensive health services to women, thus ‘trapping’ some women in employment because of needed health insurance.

  6. The hiring process for employees would become unacceptably onerous, with potential employees required to notify employers of private health conditions prior to an employment agreement. If the employee does not make this inquiry, they could lose valuable coverage for required medications.

I think the core of this argument is about who is harmed the most. In my opinion, it is clear the employee (patient) is the one who will be most disadvantaged if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby.

Finally, if corporations are allowed to opt out of laws they find morally objectionable, laws will no longer have objective meaning. Every law will potentially become the focus of legal challenges based on moral convictions.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we already use our collective resources to fund programs and actions that many find objectionable. It doesn’t mean we have the right to refuse to participate in the laws of our society. I object to the death penalty, but it doesn’t mean that I have the right to separate my tax dollars in a way that pleases me. Quite the opposite, in fact: I am forced to contribute to the deaths of citizens against my will.

If I can be forced to support the death penalty with my tax dollars, how is it possible that we would allow corporations to deny medical treatments to their employees due to their moral objections? In my view, it won’t be possible. Hobby Lobby will be denied.