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Justice Alito: ‘Those Who Value Religious Freedom Have Cause for Great Concern’

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a case challenging a Washington state law that forces a family-owned pharmacy to dispense emergency contraceptives is an “ominous sign” for those who value religious freedom, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said.

“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 said Tuesday in a critical dissent.

Alito was joined in his dissent by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas, falling one justice short of the four needed for the court to accept a case.

The case involves the Storman family, owners of Ralph’s Thriftway, a small, family-run grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia, Wash. In 2007, after Washington state passed a law that requires all pharmacies to dispense “all lawfully prescribed drugs or devices” in a timely manner to all customers, the Stormans found themselves in the cultural crosshairs.

Under the state law, denying Plan B could result in the Stormans losing their pharmacy license.

The Stormans then entered a long legal battle. In February 2012, a federal court struck down the law as unconstitutional. The court found “abundant evidence” that the law was designed to force religious pharmacists and pharmacy owners to violate their faith.

But last July, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, upholding the law mandating pharmacists to dispense legal drugs and devices. The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case today allows the 9th Circuit’s ruling—and the law—to stand.

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If a customer at Ralph’s Thriftway requests a drug such as Plan B, employees refer customers to other local pharmacies that do carry the drug. According to court documents, over 30 pharmacies and drug stores within five miles of Ralph’s carry Plan B, and none of Ralph’s customers has ever been denied timely access to Plan B or other emergency contraceptives.

Alito, in his dissent, suggested the 2007 law, which is unique to Washington state, was designed specifically to target Christian believers.

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