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editorial

Gordon College case shows need to contain Hobby Lobby ruling

The Supreme Court opened a Pandora’s box in its Hobby Lobby ruling last month, and the aftershocks reached Massachusetts quickly. The court ruled that the Oklahoma-based retailer could choose to ignore a regulation by claiming that compliance would violate its owners’ religious beliefs. The rule in question was a provision in the Affordable Care Act that required employers to include coverage of birth control in their health plans. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the deciding vote in the 5-4 decision, insisted the ruling was so narrow it would have few broader implications. But it’s just as easy to see the decision as inviting other religion-based claims. After all, if religious companies can wriggle out of health care laws they dislike, why not religious colleges out of employment law, too?

That’s where Gordon College, a Christian school in Wenham, comes in. Like many other American institutions, Gordon dislikes some government policies — in the college’s case, an impending executive order that will prohibit federal contractors from discriminating in their hiring based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The school, if it finds that rule too onerous, could simply stop taking federal money. Instead, Gordon, a la Hobby Lobby, wants an exemption from the rule. (Gordon’s stance has, in turn, provoked a backlash from the City of Salem, whose mayor broke off a contract with the school.)

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