A corporation is a separate legal entity that is incorporated through either a legislative or registration process, and they have legal rights and liabilities that are distinct from their employees and shareholders. As separate legal entities, corporations have detached accountability and are legally separated from their individual owner or shareholders for tax purposes and to serve as protection from liability issues if, for example, a defective product caused injury or death to consumers. American corporations have amassed inordinate power over the United States government’s judiciary, and although they are legally separated from their owners for tax and liability reasons, some corporate owners are using them to force their employees to adhere to their religious convictions. Over the past year, private secular corporations’ owners have sought judicial relief to ignore a mandate in the new health law to provide contraception coverage in their company’s health insurance prescription plans and appealed the courts to ignore their corporation’s detached accountability and legal separation to withhold medicine from their female employees.
Three weeks ago a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled against Mennonites (Christians) who own Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation and found that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.” The Mennonites refused to accept the panel’s ruling and appealed to the full Federal Appeals Court that announced it will not disturb the prior decision upholding the rules ensuring that most employer-provided health plans will have to cover prescriptions whether the Mennonites’ religion forbids them or not. The judge writing for the original 3rd Circuit’s majority, Judge Robert Cowen, said that although there was “a long history of protecting corporations’ rights to free speech,” there was no history of protecting a company’s free exercise of religion. “We simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation can exercise religion. A holding to the contrary … would eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.”
About two months ago, secular corporation, Hobby Lobby, appealed to the 10th Circuit Court for a ruling that eviscerated the fundamental principle that a corporation is legally distinct from its owners and can exercise its version of religious freedom to deny contraception coverage to its employees. The court ruled that Hobby Lobby the corporation did have religious freedom rights to control which prescription medicine its female employees were allowed to use, and in fact said the Obama Administration offended the corporation’s (a legal entity distinct from its owners) religious beliefs that it could impose its religion on its employees. The idea that anyone in America has the right to force another citizen to follow their religious beliefs is bad enough, but that a legal entity has religious beliefs and freedoms is beyond the pale. However, this is 2013 and Republicans have determined that the Constitution’s Separation Clause is null and void and that corporations, especially those owned by religious fanatics, have rights over and above American citizens; especially if they are women.
The absurdity of a legal entity having religious liberty, or convictions, to force its employees to adhere to its beliefs aside, the recent Circuit Court decisions raise another more troubling issue; judicial activism and political partisanship. In the 3rd Circuit’s full panel of 12 judges’ decision, all but one of the Republicans on the bench ruled in favor of the Mennonites (Christians) that followed Republicans’ newfound belief that America is a theocracy. In 2004, a California Supreme Court decision ruled that religious employers must comply with the law in a similar case involving birth control and Republicans on the bench agreed that a business cannot impose its (non-existent) religious convictions on its employees. However, since conservatives in the judicial system are bound to the whims of the Republican Party and their opposition to the President, they have little choice but following the GOP’s dictates that the contraception mandate cannot stand; especially when a corporation is involved and particularly if they are oriented toward fanatical Christianity.
The latest decision to let the 3rd Circuit’s three-judge ruling stand means the Supreme Court will surely decide whether the long-standing fundamental principle that a corporation is a distinct entity separate from its owners will remain a fundamental principal or not. A sure indication the High Court will hear the case is when there is a conflict between two federal circuit courts, the Supreme Court will decide which is right. The inherent danger is that since the conservatives on the High Court are bound by the Koch brothers to rule according to Republican and corporate edicts, it is likely America will take another step closer toward theocracy.
Women and their so-called constitutional right to decide, with their doctors, their own reproductive health have three powerful foes to contend with; activist judges, Republicans, and religious fanatics determined to deny them the right to use contraceptives. In the 3rd and 10th Circuit cases, Hobby Lobby’s owner and the Mennonites determined that hormonal birth control is an abortifacient that induce miscarriages in spite of overwhelming medical science that they prevent conception. However, since religious extremists have concluded that their religious belief nullifies biological science with Republicans’ blessings, there is a near-certainty the conservatives on the Supreme Court will reject science and dutifully embrace precisely what Republicans and corporations demand and rule for theocracy.
America as a democracy, and a nation of laws, is in jeopardy if a fundamental principle that a corporation is distinct from its owners applies for tax and liability protections but not for the bizarre notion that a legal entity has religious freedom to force its employees to adhere to their bastardized version of American Christianity. What is more troubling though, is that the judicial system has become a partisan tool of corporations and Republicans to impose theocratic law on women, and it is likely borne of the conservative fixation on Islamic Sharia Law. Like any fixation, the afflicted begin taking on their source of obsession’s characteristics and with corporations and the judicial system as their source of power, Republicans are bound to succeed and usher in a corporate theocracy with ease.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.