Are corporations people too when it comes to religion?

Well, if conservatives have their way.  Looks like a case on this issue is headed for the Supreme Court as Hobby Lobby (and some federal appelate judges) feel it violates their religious freedom to cover contraceptives for their employees.  Who knew that corporations had religious freedom anyway?  Nice summary of the key issues in the NYT article.  Interestingly, the legal rationale borrows directly from Citizens United which so prominently gave corporations first amendment rights (in speech).

In Slate, Lorelei Lard explains just how problematic it is:

This ruling in Citizens United has been fodder for comics because, to state the obvious, corporations are not people with independent thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. That’s part of why the 3rd and 6th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals rejected the claims of corporations that don’t want to follow the contraception mandate in Obamacare. Those courts also ruled that the owners of those companies don’t have a freedom of religion claim of their own, because the mandate does not obligate them as individuals to do anything…

It’s not just the contraception mandate that’s at stake. Right now, civil rights law assures that your employer can’t legally fire you for practicing your religion or compel you to practice hers. But if corporations have religious rights, what happens if, as Rovner also suggested, a Southern Baptist employer declines to give the time off provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act to a gay male employee expecting the birth of a child by surrogacy? The company could claim that forcing it to recognize same-sex couples and their families—or pay substantial penalties in a lawsuit—violates its free-exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. To respect the employer’s religious rights, the courts could decide that the way for an employee to preserve his rights is to quit his job…

This would eviscerate traditional civil rights laws and defang new ones, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which just passed the Senate and would forbid discrimination nationwide on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In the past, courts have not accepted religious-freedom arguments for firing a white employee over an interracial friendship or refusing to hire or promote non-Christians. If corporations have religious rights and the contraception mandate is a “substantial burden” on those rights, decades of decisions like these could be at risk. Workers with beliefs different from those of their employers would clearly be the losers.

As Rovner pointed out, the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom was written in part because Colonial Americans felt monarchs should not tell people how to worship. By giving religious rights to corporations, the Supreme Court could give that power to their owners instead. That can’t be right.

If the owners of Hobby Lobby don’t want to pay for people to have the Pill, I suggest they don’t use any of their personal funds to buy contraception for others.  But Hobby Lobby Inc., does not have a religion.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Are corporations people too when it comes to religion?

  1. Mike from Canada says:

    If David Green the owner and CEO of Hobby Lobby wants to run his limited liability corporation with his personal values, even when they conflict with the law, perhaps we should let him. But only if his business loses it’s LLC. Mr Green can then contend with having full responsibility of anything and everything done by his employees in his name. He should be personally taxed at the personal rate for all his businesses profits. All debts and obligations should accrue to him personally as well with the same tightened bankruptcy laws that consumers and students have had seen enacted on them.

    Why should Mr. Green get the benefits of an LLC when he clearly wants the control afforded to a business more associated with the sole proprietorship model. Should anyone in his business commit a crime in David Green’s name, Mr Green should go to jail and his business sold to pay for restitution and fines. When Mr Green dies, his business can die with him.

    Or he can continue to enjoy the protections a Limited Liability Corporation affords him, and he can continue follow the laws and regulations required as he runs Hobby Lobby as a limited liability corporation.

    Yes, I know that doesn’t work because it would still be illegal for Mr. Green to discriminate against his employees he hires directly.

    Hobby Lobby pays for the contraceptives it’s employee’s purchase whether it’s through insurance or if the employees buy them directly with their pay supplied by Hobby Lobby. The only way to remove the so called conflict with Mr. Green’s “values” is for him to fire his employees that buy contraceptives, or for him to only hire those who follow his values. Which is the next progression.

    I think David Green’s obsession with his employee’s sex lives and genitalia is more then a little strange.

  2. Zo0tie says:

    I have no objection to corporations being people as long as there is a clear determination about where the brain is. The standard answer is the Board of Directors or the CEO. But who annointed them? I see no neurons connecting them to the workers. I will submit that the Board and the CEO represent the behind of the corporation. Perhaps the vermiform appendix, but that is as far as I will go.

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