Originally appeared at Slate.com on July 4, 2014.


The architecture of the U.S. Supreme Court Building is rife with turtles. There are turtles holding up the lampposts in the courtyard and turtles engraved in the stone decor. You can buy turtle coffee mugs at the gift shop. The turtle is said to represent the slow and deliberate pace of justice. This is an institution, the turtle tells us, that moves slowly, deliberately, and removed from the knee-jerk pace of the political branches.

Yet moments before they adjourned for their summer recess, the justices proved they can act quite quickly and recklessly when it comes to violating the terms of a controversial opinion they handed down only days earlier. It’s as if the loaner car the court gave us in the Hobby Lobby ruling broke down mere blocks from the shop.

In an unsigned emergency order granted Thursday evening, the very same court said that this very same workaround it had just praised was also unconstitutional, that this workaround also burdened the religious freedom of religious employers. Overnight, the cure has become the disease. Having explicitly promised that Hobby Lobby would go no further than Hobby Lobby, the court went back on its word, then skipped town for the summer.

This new case involves Wheaton College, an evangelical Protestant liberal arts college in Illinois. A majority of the court granted Wheaton a temporary injunction allowing it to refuse to comply with the workaround, or “accommodation,” the court had just held up as the answer in Hobby Lobby.