Religious Pharmacy Case Inspires Stinging Dissent

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Three justices called it “ominous” Tuesday as the Supreme Court rejected a case involving pharmacists who lose their jobs for refusing to dispense emergency contraceptives on religious grounds.
     When Washington state adopted the began require pharmacies to stock and dispense the emergency contraceptive Plan B, Stormans Inc., owners of Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, and two individual pharmacists filed suit in 2007.
     U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton initially barred enforcement of the new stocking rules, but the Ninth Circuit overturned the injunction in 2009 after finding that the lower court applied the wrong scrutiny “to a neutral law of general applicability.”
     Leighton ultimately concluded after a 2012 bench trial that the stocking and dispensing laws were unconstitutional, but a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit reversed his decision again last year.
     The unanimous decision found once again the rules were “neutral and generally applicable” and furthered the state’s interest in insuring access to medications in a timely manner.
     Stormans hoped to appeal, but the Supreme Court shot it down Tuesday.
     Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas joined a dissent by Justice Samuel Alito that says the case warranted review
     “There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for — or that they actually serve — any legitimate purpose,” Alito wrote. “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 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.”
     Alito found that Ralph’s made a strong case “that the regulations here are improperly designed to stamp out religious objectors.”
     “The importance of this issue is underscored by the 38 national and state pharmacist associations that urge us to hear the case,” the 15-page opinion states. “The decision below, they tell us, ‘upheld a radical departure from past regulation of the pharmacy industry’ that ‘threatens to reduce patient access to medication by forcing some pharmacies — particularly small, independent ones that often survive by providing specialty services not provided elsewhere — to close.’ Given the important First Amendment interests at stake and the potentially sweeping ramifications of the decision below, I would grant certiorari.”
     The justices who denied Stormans certiorari did not issue any opinion on their decision.

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