On March 25 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, whose outcomes will decide whether corporations can exempt themselves from provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), based on religious beliefs. The cases challenge a provision of the ACA that requires employer-provided insurance plans to include contraception coverage.Gene Robinson pens a powerful piece in USA Today:
The rulings’ importance extends beyond the ACA, however. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, its companion case, are also about Citizens United — which established that corporate personhood includes freedom of speech, exercised, in part, by giving money to political causes. Now the court will decide whether corporations have freedom of religion as well, and whether on the basis of those rights, corporations can deprive services to others.
The court should reject this dangerous assertion. Corporations exist as separate legal entities precisely to distinguish their activities from those of their owners. It is that separation that Hobby Lobby threatens to erase.
In 2003, I prepared for my consecration as a bishop by donning a bulletproof vest beneath my religious robes because of death threats from "good, religious people" who still believed that homosexual people are despicable in the eyes of God. As an openly gay man, elected as an Episcopal bishop, I was reviled even by other bishops in my own church. I know something about religion-based discrimination.Much more below the fold.
A decade later, I am watching a remarkable phenomenon: Followers of Jesus pleading with the government to allow them to shun those they regard as "sinners." Arizona's recent attempt to make it a religious right to discriminate, and similar efforts in other states, would give businesses the right not to serve almost anyone, for almost any reason, as long as it involved a seriously held religious belief. Services of all kinds could be denied to anyone whom the provider judged to be living an immoral life, according to their brand of religion.
Can corporations have religious beliefs? And if so, can corporations exempt themselves from laws by claiming that the laws violate their religious sensibilities, and thus their religious freedom?The Los Angeles Times adds its take:
In oral arguments Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider those and related issues in "Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores" and "Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius", cases that combine questions about ObamaCare and federal power with culture-war topics such as abortion, religious freedom, gay equality, contraception and women's rights. [...]
Personally, I think the whole argument is bizarre. If corporations can have religious beliefs, does that mean they go to heaven or hell after bankruptcy? No, it does not. I think it's particularly bizarre for advocates of the Hobby Lobby position to claim to be defending human dignity by claiming that corporations and human beings are the same thing, because they are not. Corporations are secular legal fictions created by the state. By definition, they cannot have religious faith and they cannot endanger their immortal soul by offering contraceptions.
[E]ven if moneymaking corporations were to be viewed as religious believers, the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate isn't a substantial burden on their exercise of religion. The mandate doesn't require an employer to do anything more than make it possible for a female employee to decide for herself whether to use contraceptives.Sandra Fluke:
When the Arizona Legislature passed a "religious freedom" law making it easier for businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples, a national outcry led Gov. Jan Brewer to veto it. A similar backlash is likely if the Supreme Court approves an absurd expansion of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Defenders of religious freedom should be careful what they pray for.
Corporations are not people. Corporations cannot have religious views. If religious rights are extended to corporations, it puts us on a slippery slope where any private company could argue that religious beliefs prevent it from offering vital employee protections. [...]
Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.