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Justices set up a slippery slope in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Demonstrators protested outside a store in Edmond, Okla., June 30 in opposition to the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Demonstrators protested outside a store in Edmond, Okla., June 30 in opposition to the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Much is being debated about the exemption granted to “believers” to opt out of laws they find contrary to their religious beliefs (“Supreme Court loses its way in vague contraceptive decision,” Editorial, July 1). There’s another argument that has yet to appear. While the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision carves out a way for believers to be exempt from laws that violate their religious beliefs, it also denies the same rights and equal protection to those whose objections, in seeking a similar exemption, may be based on moral or philosophical beliefs.

In the mid-1970s, I served on the Selective Service Commission (the draft board) and later the appeals section. Although the Vietnam War was winding down, the commission was still active in determining draft status. Many young men sought exemption from the draft as conscientious objectors. To qualify, one was required to demonstrate a belief in God. Over time, the rules were changed, allowing an exemption to all who claimed and could prove their objection to military service, whether based on religious, moral, or ethical grounds.

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Now the Supreme Court has tied itself into a knot, and the way out is difficult. By claiming that this is a narrow decision, limited only to health care, it still privileges believers over nonbelievers.

To extend the exemption to both believers and nonbelievers would raise deeper questions. Could anyone, person or corporation, now claim exemption from any law they oppose on religious, moral, or philosophical grounds? If so, then what happens to the rule of law?

Theodore A. Johnson


The writer is an assistant professor in the coexistence and conflict program at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

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