Corporation lacks religious rights

 

mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Let’s concentrate for a moment on the “Inc.” part.

Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporation selling arts and crafts. It is asking the court to declare that its religious beliefs are violated by the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that healthcare insurance provided by employers include contraception.

Founder David Green opposes the mandate with a vengeance. If the court finds in his favor, Hobby Lobby would be exempted from providing some contraception coverage — an exemption already carved out for actual churches, religiously affiliated hospitals and genuine religious organizations. If it doesn’t, we will find out what Green’s (or is it Hobby Lobby’s?) deeply held conviction is worth to him (or it). Green estimates it would cost his company $1.3 million a day.

The idea that a corporation can have religious beliefs seems ludicrous on its face, but the nose-in-the-tent ruling that gives this preposterous argument some weight was Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, which gave free-speech rights to corporations. Hobby would take that a step further: If Green has freedom of religion, so does his business. Like him, it worships, sins, is forgiven, reads the Bible and, if it all works out, is going to heaven.

If there is a heaven, I can see Green there (along with Ben and Jerry). On Earth, Green got the blessing of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for his position. In the opinion of Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich, Hobby Lobby isn’t just selling origami kits — it’s selling something much more profound. “A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values,” he wrote. “As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”

That would mean that Hobby Lobby is like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, only with stores.

There’s no end to what corporations could do — or rather, not do — in the guise of religion. In Arizona, bakers and photographers could have refused to make cakes or take pictures of same-sex couples because the practice offended their religious beliefs (Gov. Jan Brewer wisely vetoed the bill). What else could businesses refuse to do in the name of freedom of religion? Hire divorced people, maybe, or atheists, or even pay the minimum wage. After all, didn’t Jesus say something once about how hard it was for a rich man to get into heaven?

Among those who see the danger in this line of reasoning is Justice Antonin Scalia. Fifteen years ago, the court heard a case involving two employees of a drug rehabilitation program who were fired for using peyote. When they were denied unemployment compensation, they sued: They used the peyote as part of a religious ceremony at their American Indian church, they said, so the denial violated their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

Scalia was having none of it. Writing for the majority, he said that a ruling in favor of the two employees would “open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind — ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws.”

Three years after the decision, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton duly signed. The law says the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” In its brief and in oral arguments, Hobby Lobby asserts that the HHS mandate is “one of the most straightforward violations” of the law the court is ever likely to see.

America was founded on the separation of church and state, which used to be sacrosanct but increasingly isn’t. Where one side sees a retail chain selling scrapbooking kits, many more — at least judging by the number of amicus briefs — see a religious institution akin to a church. It isn’t, of course, nor is David Green some kind of priest.

Once upon a time, conservatives such as Antonin Scalia could be counted on to say so. We'll know in a few months if they still are.

© 2014, Bloomberg News

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
MONTANER

    ISLAMIC STATE

    Barbaric methods appeal to mankind’s worst instincts

    YouTube is dripping blood nowadays. Viewers of these videos are as numerous as horrified.

  •  
WAGNER

    U.S. CONSTITUTION

    ‘An ideal put down in words’

    Wednesday is Constitution Day! No, it’s not the day we test how many hot dogs your constitution can handle in 12 minutes. It’s not even a memorial for the USS Constitution, which is the world's oldest floating commissioned naval vessel.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">SHE’S BAAACK:</span> Former Sen. Hillary Clinton is introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin during the Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa.

    POLITICS

    Hillary needs to tell us her vision

    Judging by her weekend appearance in Iowa, it looks as if Hillary Clinton is indeed running for president. Now she has to answer one simple question: Why?

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category