Let's Fix This Country

Corporations Are Now Persons With Religious Sensibilities, Says Supreme Court

And they should enjoy exemptions from everyone else's laws

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”.

3 Comments for “Corporations Are Now Persons With Religious Sensibilities, Says Supreme Court”

  1. Conservative

    Ah, the liberal spin – no one is infringing on any woman’s right to use contraceptives – it merely rules that the government can’t force someone else to pay for them – contraceptives are elective not material for health – what’s next, the next nanny stater in the white house insisting face lifts are essential and must be paid for by employers? Might be essential for Nancy Pelosi but …

    • Derek Smithson

      The article’s objection has nothing to do with liberal. It is against a Supreme Court that absurdly twists corporations into having religious “feelings” so as to allow two selfish families to deny thousands of their workers the benefits that others receive under the healthcare law. Your inability to see the inequity in that, to simply call it “liberal spin”, instead only shows your right wing bias.

  2. jc

    Health benefit provisions aside, it was my understanding that the structure of a corporation was formulated, under provisions of mercantile laws, to allow the stockholders or owners to stand at arms length from the tax, commercial and civil liabilities of the enterprise while at the same time enabling it to spread its ownership more broadly, should the owners so desire. Today’s ruling appears to now be giving the owners the opportunity to, simultaneously, stand within the organization to provide it with the ability to disseminate their personal beliefs, practices, etc.

    Granted that in this ruling the Court has tried to draw a line around the decision thus restricting its immediate affect, however, having once raised the precedent they will find that, as they cannot dictate to litigants what it is the litigant wishes to contest in future, this ruling can, inevitably, lead to troubling instances of corporate overreach which can be as insidious as those attributed government without the theoretical control of having to face the electorate.

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