The Supreme Court and pharmacists: CNN shines while Washington state newspapers punt


Although I just moved to Washington state a year ago, I was unaware it is the only state in the country that mandates pharmacists to supply medicines they are opposed to on religious grounds. All other states have some sort of conscience right of refusal for pharmacists.

Then along came Stormans Inc. v. Wiesman, a case involving an Olympia, Wash.-based pharmacy that objected to a state law mandating it sell certain forms of emergency contraception. The Tacoma News Tribune describes the background here.

Here is what CNN wrote about the latest Supreme Court action on this case:

Washington (CNN) -- Over the dissent of three conservative justices who expressed concern for the future of religious liberty claims, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a case brought by the owner of a pharmacy and two pharmacists who objected to delivering emergency contraceptives such as Plan B.
The plaintiffs in the case, the Stormans family, sought to challenge Washington State regulation mandating that a pharmacy may not "refuse to deliver a drug or device to a patient because its owner objects to delivery on religious, moral or other personal grounds."
The Stormans are devout Christians and own a pharmacy in Olympia, Washington.
A federal appeals court held that the Washington regulations did not violate the First Amendment.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The CNN story then spends the next few paragraphs on the dissent:

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote separately to object to the fact that the Court declined to take up the Stormans' challenge indicating that the court is still closely divided on religious liberty issues.
"This case is an ominous sign," Alito wrote. He said that the state regulations were likely to make a pharmacist "unemployable" if he or she objects on religious grounds to "dispensing certain prescription medications."
"This court does not deem this case worthy or our time," Alito continued. "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," he said.

So here we have Alito using the words “religious liberty” as a way to name a debate that far too many media refuse to call by its rightful name.

GetReligion has, of course, written about the use of scare quotes around the words "religious liberty" several times before. That did not happen here. Alito adds, the article says, that he finds it amazing that 30 pharmacies within five miles of the offending outlet stocked the offending drugs. Consumers had plenty of options.

The Atlantic weighed in on the same case, and I do applaud them for quoting a lawyer from the Pacific Northwest (instead of somewhere on the East Coast); in this case, someone from Lewis & Clark College (my alma mater, btw).  One interesting detail the reporter adds is this:

In his dissent to the Court’s denial of cert, Alito said it was “ominous” that the Court did not “deem the case worthy of our time.” Advocacy groups have specifically sought out pharmacies that have religious objections to Plan B in order to file complaints, he said, citing evidence from the district-court filings; Ralph’s Thriftway alone was the subject of some two dozen complaints between 2006 and 2015. “If this is a sign of how religious-liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead,” Alito wrote, “those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” (Italics mine).

Finally someone of Alito’s stature says what a lot of us have known all along: Whether it’s pharmacists, bakers or photographers, there are advocacy groups out there that make it their business to find merchants they disagree with so they can sue them. I wrote this quite recently here. I have yet to see any secular media cover this, even it’s grounds under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to collaborate and conspire to drive someone out of business.

Another thing that I’ve not seen reporters bring up is how there are lots of drugs pharmacies don’t stock, yet most of us aren’t out there suing them. Not long ago, I had to go to three different pharmacies to find a certain drug my daughter needed. Did I file a lawsuit against the ones that didn’t have what I wanted? No.

Most of the articles out on this were fairly short, although I saw none that quoted the Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International position statement on right of conscience. Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher asks here that if the government has a right to force pharmacists to sell drugs despite strong conscience objections, then must companies like Pfizer violate their consciences and sell drugs intended to kill convicted prisoners? Haven't seen any media writing about that. 

And here’s how the Seattle Times covered the matter: With an article by the Associated Press. 

Ditto for The Olympian, the Stormans’ hometown newspaper.

Is the staffing at both papers so low, they couldn’t put a staff writer on this story? Or did they not think it was important?

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