An “Ominous Sign” at the Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a Washington State rule explicitly discriminating against pharmacists who refuse – on religious grounds – to dispense drugs that can act to abort a human embryo. Pharmacists can refuse to stock and dispense various drugs for a variety of secular reasons, but not for religious reasons.

Pharmacies, for example, may decline to stock a drug because the drug requires additional paperwork or a short shelf life, may attract crime, requires simple compounding (a skill all pharmacists must learn), or falls outside the pharmacy’s niche (e.g., pediatrics, diabetes, or fertility). When pharmacies don’t stock a drug, they refer customers elsewhere. This is common practice and on the lawsuit, Washington State even “stipulated” (agreed) that when pharmacies “refer” patients elsewhere, this practice did not pose a threat to timely access to prescriptions. But Washington State refused to allow only religious objectors to refer customers elsewhere.

There was ample evidence that there were more than 30 other pharmacies within 5 miles of the conscientiously objecting pharmacy, which would readily dispense the abortifacient drugs objected to by the complainant in this case.

Justice Alito dissented from the Court’s refusal to hear the case. His genuine alarm on behalf of religious freedom merits repeating here in full:

This case is an ominous sign.

At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet … this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.

There is little question that Washington State is guilty of violating the religious freedom rights of pharmacists by explicitly, facially targeting religious conscientious objectors.

Some states and lawmakers are obsessed with contraception and abortion…with the idea that sexual expression without any possibility for children is sum of all that is important and freeing.

This needs to be called what it is: bizarre, disproportionate, irrational.

Like all frenzies, it will pass. But it is wreaking havoc with religious freedom law in the meantime.

We will continue to “call out” their blind faith in contraception and abortion. Wherever we live and however we are “gifted” to contribute.

We will continue to use facts, true and moving stories, and reason.

We will continue to witness with our lives, our relationships, our goodness, and our community service, how our practice of religion makes the world a better place.


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