There was a lot of noise this week about how the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a Texas law that imposed regulations on abortion clinics, but there was little notice of a more important ruling. In Stormans v. Weisman, the Supreme Court declined (5 – 3) to hear a petition on a Ninth Circuit case out of Washington State that affirmed a state law requiring all pharmacies to stock and dispense the “Plan B” pill, which can act either as an emergency contraceptive or an abortifacient.
The Stormans own Ralph’s Thriftway, a grocery store/pharmacy with two locations a couple of miles apart in Olympia, Washington. Despite the Ralph’s employees’ willingness to refer customers to any of the 30 other nearby pharmacies that stock the drug, Washington State is determined that traditionalist Christians must not be allowed to run a pharmacy that does not stock the pill. That is unfortunate, because the Washington State law is a clear violation of the Stormans’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion. Writing for the dissenters (and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas), Justice Samuel Alito writes:
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 prescrip- tion 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 the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case wor- thy 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.