Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SCOTUS Case About "Religious Rights" of Corporations

Doesn't look like a church. Or a person.
Image from source, New York Times.
Sometimes a loony argument somehow wends its way all the way to the Supreme Court, and boy howdy is this one of them. SCOTUS is set to hear a case that asserts "religious beliefs" for corporations, more or less. This sounds preposterous of course, but when you consider that they previously called corporations people, it sounds like a logical conclusion.

So, okay. Even though corporations are clearly not people, let's presume for the sake of argument that they are. Do people have religious beliefs? Yes. Are they entitled to freedom of religion under the Constitution? Yes. They would also be entitled to freedom from religion--something the religious right has decided isn't true--which we'll get to in a minute. But typically, we think of these freedoms as personal and private. They're our own. Strangely, a new definition of "religious freedom" has taken root with the religious right, and they've pushed it all the way to the top.

What do I mean? Well, the case before the Supreme Court has to do with employers who provide health insurance. The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance plans provide contraception options. Hobby Lobby, an employer, is asserting that contraception is against their religion. Again, the corporation's religion. Now, Hobby Lobby is not a church. It's not a company that is an adjunct of the church, selling and doing business only between churches. It's a public business.

Next, consider the cases going through the courts having to do with public accommodations. Be they cake bakers, dress makers, reception halls, photographers, there is a whole category--apparently--of "oddly religious wedding planners." Several have refused to provide services to gay and lesbian couples seeking to get married (regardless of whether or not the ceremony is official or symbolic). These companies--when confronted with public accommodation laws--cry "religious freedom" too.

You'd think a corporation turning down money would
be nearly as unthinkable as a gay wedding!
While the latter point isn't directly tied to the former, they have a lot to do with each other. In both cases, you have companies claiming to have religious beliefs. And claiming that it is their religious freedom to dictate what their employers, or what their customers receive. Hobby Lobby isn't receiving contraception, or even providing it. They're providing insurance to people who may or may not get contraceptives partly covered by the insurance. But more importantly, the employee very likely does not share the employer's religion, and shouldn't have to! And a baker who has a problem with same-sex marriage hasn't got the right to insist that their customers adhere to the bakers' religion or else not get a cake.

I could veer off into several side-issues, like the fact that these oh-so-pious companies probably overlook a bevvy of other sins, and are oddly focusing on contraceptives and gays. But instead, I'll just say emphatically, your religious freedom ends with you. Unless you run a private, religious organization through and through, your religion does not extend to your employees and customers unless they want it to.

I'm nervous that this famously odd Supreme Court (which has veered from the horror of Citizens United and gutting the Voting Rights Act, to pleasing Marriage Equality decisions) might make another Pandora's Box decision. After all, if corporations can dodge all manners of laws and regulations just by crying "religious freedom," where will it end? And with whose religion? Are Satanism, Wicca, Scientology, and Pastafarians going to get in on the action?


Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations

Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, closes on Sundays, costing its owners millions but honoring their Christian faith.  The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it. . .

Read more at: New York Times

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