Corporations Are Now Persons With Religious Sensibilities, Says Supreme CourtAnd they should enjoy exemptions from everyone else's laws Jul 7 2014
On the last day of its current term, the Supreme Court chose to give closely-held family-owned businesses a special exemption from the Obamacare requirement that they pay for insurance coverage that covers contraceptives if they offend the religious beliefs of the corporation.
After a string of 9-0 verdicts, the Court once again split on its usual fault line, with the 5 conservatives siding with the corporations and the 4 liberals against.
In the infamous Citizens United case, the Court went beyond the original treatment of corporations as "persons" to allow them access to courts by deciding that corporations should be thought of as more like us, and therefore entitled to contribute unlimited amounts to organizations such as political action committees (PACs). Now the Court has expanded corporate personhood still further to mean that they are like sentient humans even to the extent of having religious sensibilities.
The ruling ignited a firestorm that soon deviated from the facts of the case. As if rehearsed, conservatives chanted "religious freedom", which was never the issue the right of the Green family of Hobby Lobby to practice their religion was never impaired, or are they celebrating the freedom to force one's religious precepts on others while liberals ranted that to give corporations the right to take away free contraceptives is a "war on women".
A passel of of companies — 84 said The Wall Street Journal — had sued the government with the same religious claim against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate. The Supreme Court chose two Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts-and-crafts stores based in Oklahoma City, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of kitchen cabinet doors combining them into what is jointly referred to as the Hobby Lobby case.
It is the corporations that would pay for the insurance and therefore only the corporations that can bring the complaint, yet the Supreme Court has allowed the religious beliefs of the families to be transfused into the corporations. This is the same court that has so often said litigants lack “standing”, i.e., the right to sue as the damaged party.
The families are offended that they should have to violate their religious principles by having their businesses offer such insurance. Of the twenty government approved methods of contraception, they object to four that act, they say, as an abortifacient — a substance that induces abortion such as the "morning after pill" although it is taken with no knowledge of whether conception took place the night before.
Members of these families are of course free not to use the contraceptives themselves, and even free to proselytize to their workforce not to, but instead they believe they should have the right to impose their religious rules on the lives of their 28,000 employees, depriving them of an insurance benefit available to everyone else under the Affordable Care Act.
"There's no way we're taking anybody's rights away", says David Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby. "It's our rights that are being infringed upon". A Wall Street Journal editorial calls this paternalism “the free exercise of religion”, as in the freedom of the few to impose their religious views on the many, evidently.
“I could live the way I do with ten stores. So why do we want 500 stores? So we can tell more people about Christ”, says Green. Six of the Supreme Court justices and all who sided with Hobby Lobby are Catholics. The liberal foil on Fox News "The Five" wondered how the justices would have ruled had it been a Jewish family company decreeing that employees not drive nor use electricity on Saturdays.
The justices needed law for this special dispensation and relied on 1993’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, spoken of as "Rifra") which ironically was enacted to overcome a Supreme Court decision that said exceptions to laws could not be made in deference to religious practices.
FRFA says that a government action "shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless it is "the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest". The justices tipped us what their ruling would be when the case was heard in March. Sharp questioning of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued for the government, showed a sympathetic tilt toward the corporations' (i.e., the families') "burden". Little regard was paid to Verrilli's emphasis on the burden on their employees. And the Court's decision seems to have paid no heed to the "compelling government interest" in preventing the rise in abortions that will be the consequence of low-income women foregoing the $600 a year cost of contraceptives 40% of unwanted pregnancies result in abortions.
The justices suggested that the government pay for the pharmaceuticals. Thus would the religious self-absorption of these families be sending the bill to the rest of us as taxpayers.
We will now get to watch whether Justice Elena Kagan’s prediction will prove true, that the ruling in Hobby Lobby’s favor will bring religious objectors “out of the woodwork”.
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