Monday, June 30, 2014

Corporations Are Not People; Nor Are They Churches

The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that corporations can have religious beliefs which are protected from civil requirements, just as churches are. 

In this case, Hobby Lobby can refuse to comply with the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that employer-provided insurance include contraception coverage.

This follows earlier decisions by this Court that corporations are 'people' and entitled to rights like actual people.

I think this reflects a degeneration in our civil religion.  We are elevating the 'free market' and the profits made in it to a central place in the collective sacred. 

I think this is an error of fact - markets only work if they are protected and regulated by the state, and those who make profits from regulated markets owe much to society as a whole for that protection and regulation. 

I also think this is an error of faith - markets are a useful decision-making tool for democratic societies.  Corporations are one of the useful tools we have developed to take advantage of this decision-making mechanism.

Corporations are not sacred entities.  Corporations are not even people-like.  They serve us; we should not serve them.

'Corporate sanctity' will, in retrospect, seem like one of the great heresies of this new gilded age.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

So you think God will accept the "Well, I didn't want to purchase abortifacients for my employees but I had to because it was business" excuse? You need to put your Christian hat on more often than your Democratic hat. If I run a business, I am certainly not going to participate in activities that make me betray my beliefs.

gruntled said...

Your business is not you.

Michael Kruse said...

Well, on the one hand we deride corporations for acting without a moral conscience and being only concerned with profit. So a company comes along and says we won’t be open on Sundays (HL est loses $100 mil a year), and won’t pay for certain types of birth control, possibly limiting their pool of. They act with a moral conscience, not just profit, and now we tell them they are a corporation and can’t do that. Which is it? ;-)

I do think the distinction between closely held private corporations and publically traded corporations is important. Private corporations are not required to sell stock to anyone. They can be selective about who they bring into ownership and screen to be sure a common set of values is shared. The private corporation would therefore be truly representing the values of the owners. The issue here is not “free markets” so much as stewardship and people being able to live out convictions in business life. Sounds very Reformed to me.

Public companies have stock open to any and all who want to buy and sell. Ownership was not tendered based on having a particular religious perspective and the since ownership would be in constant flux, so would the religious views.

Anonymous said...

My business certainly is me. You're deluded. I don't think you can use that argument with God when your time of judgment comes. "I was just following orders" will likely not cut it.

I completely agree with Michael Kruse. It gets old hearing liberals complain about the greed and lack of compassion of corporations. Which way do you want it?

gruntled said...

Michael, you make a good point about the difference between a publicly held corporation and a private or semi-private business.

I see a difference between wanting corporations to act morally, which I do, and treating them as religious institutions, which I think is idolatrous. And I certainly do not think that the latter entails the former.

Reformed Catholic said...

I really would like to know what all these women did to get their contraceptives prior to the affordable care act?

Its not as if you couldn't go to your local Planned Parenthood office and not get them there for little or no cost?

Thomas M. Cothran said...

"The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that corporations can have religious beliefs which are protected from civil requirements, just as churches are."

The decision doesn't apply to all corporations, just closely held corporations.

You also assume that laws binding corporations necessarily do not bind people. But this clearly is not the case.

Say that a city passes an ordinance prohibiting businesses from posting religious material in places open to the public. Even though the restriction is on businesses, it clearly violates the freedom of religious expression.

Your premise that corporations are not people-like actually works against you.

Finally, the conceptual background of the criticism is clearly Protestant. That is, the assumption is that religion is primarily a personal, even individual matter. But this is just to demand that we all accept a peculiarly Protestant doctrine.

Many (most?) religions consider religiousity a primarily public, corporate and institutional matter, and only secondarily personal. (This view has the additional benefit of being the more true.)

gruntled said...

To Reformed Catholic:

"The IUD is the most inexpensive long-term and reversible form of birth control you can get. Unlike other forms of birth control, the IUD only costs money in the beginning. The cost for the medical exam, the IUD, the insertion of the IUD, and follow-up visits to your health care provider can range from $500 to $1,000." (Planned Parenthood).

A worker making $8/hour, a plausible Hobby Lobby wage, makes $1280 a month, gross.

gruntled said...

To Thomas Cothran:

I am not assuming that religion is not corporate. I am asserting that business corporations are not religious institutions, and therefore are not due the protections that we offer corporate religious institutions - such as the protections that actual religious institutions are given under the very provisions of the Affordable Care Act that Hobby Lobby contested.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

So in the example of the city ordinance that prohibits businesses from posting religious material in areas open to the public no free exercise rights are being violated?

gruntled said...

I think that is a grayer case, and the court would have to know many more facts. If the religious material was aimed at excluding members of the public who were not of that faith, then that would seem to be a civil rights violation.

The bigger point, I think, is that the free speech rights of the employees are different from the free exercise rights of the corporation.

Michael Kruse said...

Just curious. Is the issue that it is a corporation or a for profit business? Would it be okay if it were a sole proprietorship or partnership?

Thomas M. Cothran said...

We're bringing in too many extraneous issues. The question is whether restrictions on corporations can implicate an individual's free exercise. So let's modify the example.

A city passes an ordinance requiring businesses to remove any religious materials in places open to the public. An LLC with two Christian owners is cited for having an icon of Jesus Christ in a waiting room. The LLC does not have any employees. Does the citation implicate the free exercise of religion?

What this example shows is that restrictions on corporations restrict the free exercise of individuals.

All the stuff about the Supreme Court holding that corporations hold religious beliefs is inaccurate. The reason Hobby Lobby is considered a "person" under the act has nothing to do with whether it holds beliefs, and everything to do with the fact that there's a statute (the "Dictionary Act") that includes corporations within the definition of "person."

Copse said...


This sort of explains the 'Dictionary Act.'


http://www.yalelawjournal.org/forum/hobby-lobby-and-the-dictionary-act

gruntled said...

I think the free speech rights of the individuals who run a partnership should be accommodated by the state in most cases, including religious speech. That does not make their partnership or LLC a religious institution.

As to the Dictionary Act and its interpretation of corporations as persons, I think that the courts and legislatures in the first gilded age, and in this one, go much too far in treating corporations as if they were people.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

I'm not sure I understand the answer. There are free speech rights at stake, but not free exercise rights?

I generally agree that corporations should not be treated like people. (In this case, it's just a matter of statutory interpretation, not general principle.)

But in the case of laws that compel corporations to do things contrary to their religious convictions, whether a corporation is a person is generally an unnecessary postulate. Laws that compel corporations compel people.

gruntled said...

Churches are corporate religious actors, including their actual ministries. For-profit companies are not. The individuals who work within them have the right to exercise and speak of their religion most anywhere, including their place of business, as long as that does not create a discriminatory public accommodation problem. The business as a business, though, does not.