Since Corporations are People, Can They Be Religious?
It’s going to take all you can muster not to shout the Lord’s name in vain over this one, so brace yourself: corporations are going to court to fight for the right to have an explicit religious identity.
The argument may seem groundless, but unfortunately it has at least one leg to stand on: corporate personhood. After all, corporations are considered people, and since people have a Constitutionally protected right to religious freedom, corporations may be entitled to that same right to worship.
Make no mistake – allowing corporations this “freedom” really means depriving employees of their own respective rights. For example, a devout Christian corporation (whatever that means) may be able to discriminate against employees for their sexuality, health practices and own forms of spirituality. In that sense, instituting a certain religious viewpoint at the workplace actually negates people’s freedoms.
Thus far, lower courts have disagreed on whether corporations are entitled to religious views, delivering contradictory verdicts. Therefore, it seems inevitable that the Supreme Court will ultimately weigh in on whether a corporation can legally take a pious stance.
The Obama administration might have invited trouble on this matter when it allowed religious nonprofits to receive exemptions from Obamacare’s contraception mandate. With that precedent, for-profit corporations, which have always been viewed differently in the eyes of the law, want to opt out of it, as well.
Currently, 39 companies are suing the government because the Affordable Care Act includes forms of birth control. The companies claim that their businesses shouldn’t have to provide employees with these options since the care contradicts with their religious values.
The most notable case actually chalked up a victory for a company’s right to religious freedom. Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma craft store chain, says it was established on biblical principles and does not wish to offer its 13,000 employees with IUDs or the morning-after pill. The company (or rather a representative for it as corporations can’t actually talk) insists that such forms of birth control are essentially like abortions and therefore against its religion.
To be clear, morning-after pills and IUDs are not abortions since they prevent fertilization from occurring in the first place. Nonetheless, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Hobby Lobby that Obamacare infringed on the company’s religious freedoms, even citing the infamous Citizens United decision as a precedent. “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” the judges said.
Citizens United has already compromised the electoral process by declaring corporate money a form of “free speech.” This next move to obtain religious freedom is yet another way to abuse corporate personhood.
Can a corporation sit next to you in a pew at church? Can a corporation have a Bar Mitzvah? Can a corporation wrestle with existential questions to either strengthen or weaken its own faith? Heck, can a corporation think independently in any capacity?
Personally, I won’t be convinced that a corporation is capable of having religious thoughts until a business begins practicing a religion that differs from its owner. We’d see real quickly just how far a Jesus-loving CEO’s plight for religious freedom extends if his company were to somehow convert to Islam.
These upcoming legal battles will certainly be worth watching.