Forum Center: SCOTUS to decide whether corporations are eligible for Heaven and Hell
By Alex Culpepper
Illustration: ©2013 Rob Rogers. Reprinted with permission
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations essentially have free speech rights related to campaign finance regulation. The rhetorical question arising from this ruling has since been “Are corporations really people?” The court, however, never officially defined corporations as entitled to the same rights as people in all areas, but the decision more or less established corporations as people in regard to the First Amendment.The Supreme Court had a new and similar challenge in its courtroom coming from two for-profit, secular companies at odds with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement to cover contraceptives in their employer-provided health insurance plans or face fines. This past week, the court heard the cases Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, and the plaintiffs charged the ACA mandate with violating their First Amendment rights. According to owners of Hobby Lobby, they believe some forms of contraception to be equivalent to abortion, a violation of their religious beliefs. The corporations in the fight said their beliefs should entitle them to an exemption from the contraceptive mandate of the healthcare law, and they sought a foundation in that stand from the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993 and its protections against applying a “substantial burden” on a citizen’s exercise of religion.
The issue for supporters of these companies is basically religion and the First Amendment. They say because the owners are deeply religious, by extension so is the company. They say whatever happens to the company and what the company does is a reflection of the owners. And in this case, they say the company – and thus the owners – is being forced by law to honor and subsidize abortions. They say it is a serious and dangerous violation of religious liberty. They also object to such federal mandates as more government overreach at the expense of business owners.
Opponents of these companies’ positions have problems with a court decision favoring the employers. They say it would be a radical restructuring of the First Amendment and would open the door to federally sanctioned discrimination as employers of all kinds seek exemptions based on religious belief for any number of reasons. They say corporations are not people and cannot have religious beliefs or rights of religious expression, and corporate law makes distinctions between a business and its owners.
By many reports, the debate raises issues about whether companies can have religious beliefs, to what degree those beliefs are protected and how they might affect other people. The legal team for Hobby Lobby and others say the owners should have rights regarding their religious beliefs and subsequent protections under the First Amendment. Their opponents say companies cannot just pick and choose which laws to follow because the owners have a particular religious belief. Either way, the court will decide with a ruling in June.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
Debate forum question of the week:
Does a corporation have a religious conscience and the rights that go along with it?
More specifically, should a company have the ability to claim exemption from the Affordable Care Act based on religious belief?
Debate Left: Hobby Lobby’s unconscionable argument
It would sound something like this:
Person 1: Hobby Lobby believes the Affordable Care Act violates the religious freedom of their business, and it should receive an exemption from parts of the ACA.
Person 2: (Repeats).
Person 1: Hobby Lobby proposes that for-profit corporations themselves have consciences.
Person 2: (Pauses, sighs. Repeats.)
Person 1: … I can’t believe I just said that.
End of test.
Corporations are legal entities, not people. Even as a class, they have a very consistent function and purpose. Corporations can sue, or be sued, and generally protect their ownership from legal liability. They can own and sell property, enter and enforce contracts. They are entities separate from individuals, and exist, in a legal sense, into perpetuity. They do not immediately dissolve when an owner dies or retires. Corporations get equal protection and due process. They can be bought and sold.
But while corporations are legally independent from their ownership, they are not people. They are shells without soul, without independent thought. Corporations do not have consciences, because they are simple formations on paper and only exist within a stable legal framework. “Personhood,” when referring to corporations, is a vestige of the Fourteenth Amendment, clearly not meant to define corporations as sentient.
As independent legal entities, corporations have rights, but not all the rights of humans. Their inalienable rights, traditionally, are procedural, not moral. The rights of a corporation encourage growth and entrepreneurship. There are special rules on governance and disclosure that are specific to corporations, to help make corporations governable and accountable.
Hobby Lobby is a for-profit business, not a religious institution. Religious freedom is not a critical business component of selling craft supplies.
Hobby Lobby’s argument is dangerous. (Note when I write “Hobby Lobby’s argument,” everyone implicitly understands I mean Hobby Lobby’s ownership and legal team.)
The Supreme Court took a dangerous step toward granting corporations the rights of humans in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It granted that corporations, as associations of citizens, have freedom of speech. But stakeholders in corporations have freedom of speech as individuals; the corporations are independent entities.
The owners of Hobby Lobby would really like the Supreme Court to acknowledge the owners’ beliefs – that the Affordable Care Act violates their freedom of religion. The owners would still like, however, to maintain legal separation between ownership and company. How can they have it both ways?
In the online magazine Slate, Adam Winkler suggested since corporations are distinct from their creators, the legal obligations of the Affordable Care Act do not violate Hobby Lobby’s owners’ freedoms. The law mandates action from the corporation, not the human ownership. The human ownership may not have standing to bring a lawsuit on behalf of themselves, since the law does not apply to them as individuals.
Corporations are man-made. They don’t have feelings. They don’t have thoughts, opinions or beliefs. The creator of a corporation may have a conscience, but an inanimate idea does not. Hobby Lobby may have legitimate objections to the Affordable Care Act, at least worthy of another debate, but corporate personhood is not one of them. Pretending corporations have consciences is not only legally dangerous, but morally wrong.
Michael Truax is a freelance writer, digital marketing consultant, entertainment enthusiast and bar trivia champion living in West Chester, Ohio. He can be reached at MichaelTruax@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Debate Right: History’s greatest threat
By Dave Westbrock
The Supreme Court is faced with the question of whether a corporation has the same rights as an individual in the exercise of free speech and the basic right of association. The issue prompting the lawsuit concerns the ObamaCare mandate for contraceptive and abortofacient coverage. The argument in this case misses the point, since the liberal establishment will defend the High Court’s precedence when it conforms to their progressive beliefs (e.g. Roe v. Wade). On the other hand, when precedence has been established – as in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), progressives literally shout this only applies as a basis for political donations and associated speech. The court struck down a federal law banning the use of general funds for political “speech.” Such prohibition concentrates power in those federal agencies like the FEC and DC-centric groups like the 527, or “super PACS” – groups organized to influence votes in federal, state and local elections. At least 527s, like corporations, represent an American tradition wherein individuals may amplify their voices by combining resources for more effective political influence. In the progressive mind, this principle is valid when it comes to groups like labor unions or the Sierra Club, but not when it comes to the rights of individuals representing their rights as business owners.
Such is the real question in the current cases Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius. The issue of the contraception mandate is one of several examples of federal legislation overstepping the Constitution as part of ObamaCare (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). Let’s be real here. This law is not really about insuring the heretofore uninsured, the so-called 30 million Americans. That being the case, we would not have the current situation of more people now being uninsured, having lost their policies to the law’s interference. Fewer than 5 million of those uninsured have actually signed up for ObamaCare. No, this is a Progressive attempt to totally federalize health care, for which there is no Constitutional provision, in violation of the Tenth Amendment. In the words of V.I. Lenin, “medicine is the keystone in the arch of socialism.” Society – and as result, our American culture – has accelerated in the direction of more government control and less individual freedom over our decisions and daily lives.
Regarding religious freedom, one thing has been obvious over the past two centuries: In the words eloquently voiced by Ronald Reagan and many others, constitutional protections of religion were not composed to protect the people from religion, but to protect religion from government mandate. This was deemed absolutely necessary by the Founding Fathers, since it was a major stimulus for the establishment of the colonies of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maryland, among others. Only in the past 50 years has this principle been corrupted by secular progressives. Such is signified by the necessity to pass the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993 – a law which would have been redundant a half-century ago.
From a legal and political point of view, the contraceptive mandate was not included in the original legislation until eight months after passage, and it is not legal to change a law once the concurrent Congress (111th) expired.
Who determines Hobby Lobby or Conestoga is a “secular corporation?” It is made of ownership and employees, a majority of whom subscribes to a religion reflecting the body politic of this United States. As an employee, if I do not agree with the policies of the company, I am free to seek employment elsewhere. The argument is made that a finding by the court on behalf of Hobby Lobby may lead to other restrictions by an employer, such as dress code or use of contraceptives by an employee. For one thing, these days it is impractical and impossible to assess whether or not a woman is using birth control. Additionally, is it not legal for a company, private or not, to restrict employees from smoking and establishing a dress code appropriate to the job? The counter argument is made primarily to support the phony Progressive “war on women.”
Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of health care reform and health care policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@DaytonCityPaper.com.