Religious freedom is essential -- a fundamental right, said a policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington during a Thursday forum in Kennewick.
But at the same time, "We have to make sure, when exercising that right, we don't impose our beliefs on others and our beliefs don't harm others who happen to hold different beliefs," said Leah Rutman, adding that in the Hobby Lobby case, "the court seemed to sanction just that."
But Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said, "The Supreme Court did not do anything unprecedented or historic in this case," but simply reaffirmed a standard that's existed in the U.S. since the First Amendment was written.
"The fact that you have a right to something, does not carry with it a corresponding obligation for me to provide it to you," he argued.
The debate isn't about whether a person has the right to buy contraception, but whether that person can force someone else -- someone who objects because of their religious beliefs -- to buy it for them, Backholm told the crowd.
He and Rutman spent about an hour debating the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby ruling and its implications during the Columbia Basin Badger Club forum.
The event came about 11/2 months after the Supreme Court in a 5-4 split sided with the owners of Hobby Lobby, who challenged the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. For-profit companies must provide insurance that covers all forms of FDA-approved contraception under the mandate.
But Hobby Lobby's owners objected to a few kinds -- emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices, or IUDs -- because of religious beliefs. The ruling also applied to another family owned company with a similar objection.
Rutman said the contraception mandate was enacted to give women equal access to health care and to ensure women and their partners are the ones making the decision about reproduction.
"The court determined that these corporations did not have to provide a health care benefit that only women need, a benefit that helps women to participate equally in society," Rutman said. "Essentially, in Hobby Lobby, the court sanctioned discrimination against women and put the personal opinions of employers above the law" and above the health care needs of women.
But Backholm said that the idea of forcing your boss in a compensation package to "give (you) something that violates their beliefs -- that's not an American idea," but a totalitarian one.
He also said that contraception is widely accessible in the U.S. and "the idea there are millions of women who don't have access" is untrue.
Rutman and Backholm each gave opening and closing statements and fielded questions from Badger Club members. The first question was about the ongoing Arlene's Flowers case, which centers on the refusal of a Richland flower shop owner to create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her religious views.
Backholm and Rutman agreed that the two cases -- although they have some similar themes -- are different, and Hobby Lobby likely won't have much legal bearing on the Arlene's Flowers matter.
For more information about the Badger Club, including video of its forums, go to www.cbbc.clubexpress.com.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald