Do Corporations Have a Right to Religious Expression?
Remember back in 2010 when the Supreme Court declared that corporations had free speech, just like real people? As a reminder, in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, SCOTUS declared political spending a form of protected speech and, therefore, corporations could not be prohibited from exercising their first amendment right. In the 2012 election, the “people” let their voices be heard to the tune of more than $3 billion dollars.
Now corporations want another first amendment right afforded to humans – free exercise of religion.
In May of this year, the Green family of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in federal court, stating their religious rights were being violated due to the mandate in the Affordable Care Act requiring all employers with 50 or more employees to provide insurance coverage that includes birth control.
I should mention that by the Green family, I mean their corporation, Hobby Lobby, Inc.
The ACA requires coverage of more than 20 forms of birth control. Hobby Lobby (and their affiliated company, Madera, Inc.) is only against those that cause “the death of an embryo.”
I guess it is not surprising that a corporation does not know how birth control, or science, works.
The crux of their argument is that because the private owners of a for-profit corporation with 500 stores in 41 states and more than 13,000 full time employees are devout Christians, they shouldn’t be forced to go against their ill-informed beliefs about birth control and be allowed to deny their employees their federally protected right to coverage.
In June, a federal appeals court agreed.
The Denver based Tenth Circuit’s 5-3 ruling stated that the corporations “absorbed” the religious convictions of its owners and the businesses are run accordingly. This gives the corporations protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which states that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
Meaning that when the law applies to everybody — regardless of religious affiliation (or none) — if it burdens a person’s exercise of religion, then it shouldn’t apply to them.
So by osmosis, corporations have the right to exercise their religion.
The question is, how? Are corporations baptized or take communion? How do they fit in those pews?
It should be noted that the judges specifically refer to SCOTUS’ 2010 ruling in Citizens United concluding, “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression.” The judges call it another form of evangelism.
Last month, the Philadelphia based Third Circuit ruled that the family-owned corporation Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. in Pennsylvania does not have the right to exercise religion, even if its owners are devout. “We do not see how a for-profit, ‘artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,’ that was created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.”
In other words, corporations are not people. Halleluiah!
The courts are now evenly split on whether or not for-profit corporations can spread the gospel via denying their employees a basic health care need.
There are several other cases wending their way through the courts all over the country, with additional rulings expected in September and October. A judge in the Hobby Lobby case granted an injunction against enforcementof the birth control mandate, setting up a most certain appeal by the government.
There is a good chance the Supreme Court will hear one or more of these cases in the next term.
That’s worked out well before – for corporations.