If someone told me, even a year ago, that the Supreme Court would consider if corporations practice a religion and with it, have a right to freedom of religion I wouldn’t have believed it. I would never have believed that the Supreme Court would seriously consider if a corporation has a right to pick and choose which laws it would follow based on its suddenly discovered religious sensitivities.
Yet, here we are in the 21st century and in an advanced country, in which the highest court of the land is deciding these very issues.
Hobby Lobby has its last chance to argue that it, as a corporation, practices a religion as an entity distinct from the family that runs the company. Moreover, providing its female employees with insurance that includes certain kinds of birth control, (which Hobby Lobby wrongfully claims is “abortion”) is such an affront to the corporation’s religious beliefs that the executives who run it didn’t realize they were offending their God until the birth control mandate became a political issue.
Seriously, does anyone really believe that argument? Even if one lives in the alternate reality in which inanimate objects like corporations practice a religion, a ruling in Hobby Lobby’s favor amounts to saying under the pretense that a corporation practices a religion, bosses can impose that religion on their employees, and potentially entire communities.
It seems unthinkable that we’re having this debate in the 21st Century. Even more unthinkable is that a decision in Hobby Lobby’s favor wouldn’t stop at questions about reproductive care. It would amount to giving corporations control over many facets of the healthcare their employees, and for that matter, their employees’ children could have. This twisted logic could be extended to tax law, labor standards, and anti-discrimination laws. For that matter, if armed with a ruling in Hobby Lobby’s favor, why wouldn’t Big Oil claim that they must engage in fracking under their religion or they won’t clean up oil spills because that violates their religion? In reality, the ability of a corporation to deem itself exempt from any law on religious grounds is only limited by the imagination.
Interestingly, Hobby Lobby admits that its health insurance plan covered Plan B and Ella, two of the birth control methods the company now objects to. It was so important to the company’s religious sensitivities that HL’s executives didn’t notice until the birth control mandate became a political issue.
It’s bad enough that Hobby Lobby’s executives would like to impose their religious dogma on female employees with an argument that’s akin to claiming the earth is flat. It’s obscene that the Supreme Court has to consider this bunk. (To be fair, because there are mixed court rulings on this question, the Supreme Court does have to play mediator.) But that said, the ruling should be obvious. After all, what serious minded person truly believes that corporations practice a religion, let alone face a moral dilemma between offending their God and paying fines? After all, it isn’t like corporations think, feel or have souls.
Even Justice Antonin Scalia understands the implications of a favorable ruling in this case, at least he did in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith.
Although a State would be “prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]” in violation of the Clause if it sought to ban the performance of (or abstention from) physical acts solely because of their religious motivation, the Clause does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a law that incidentally forbids (or requires) the performance of an act that his religious belief requires (or forbids) if the law is not specifically directed to religious practice and is otherwise constitutional as applied to those who engage in the specified act for nonreligious reasons.
In that case, the individuals actually did subscribe to a religion in which smoking peyote was part of the religious ritual. However, Oregon criminalized consumption of peyote and people convicted of that crime were denied unemployment insurance. The plaintiffs argued they be exempt from the law on religious grounds. Had the ruling gone in their favor, unlike in this case, those individuals would now have the power to impose their religious views on others.
However, the core principle here is that allowing a religious exemption on laws that are not specifically directed at a religious practice would lead to individuals, in this case, corporations picking and choosing which laws they choose to follow remains apt in the Hobby Lobby case.
Still, counting on facts, law and judicial consistency may be asking too much when lawyers can stand before the Supreme Court and claim that corporations practice a religion with a straight face.
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Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.