I sat next to Eddie Tabash at the speakers’ dinner Saturday, so I’ve been reminded (aka inspired) to focus more on the church/state issues looming at the Supreme Court, so you can expect me to be sharing more reportage on the subject.
Now that the Supreme Court has endowed corporations with the right to have their voices heard via unrestrained spending on political campaigns (in the Citizens United decision of 2010), there aren’t many frontiers left to test the idea that corporations are “persons.”
But one test is heading our way with the speed of a freight train. This is the claim that corporations can have a religious conscience — more to the point, that they can impose their own religious beliefs on their employees.
The issue is raised by three corporations’ challenges to Obamacare, specifically its requirement that employer health plans cover a wide range of contraceptives. The companies’ owners maintain that the rule infringes on their enterprises’ free expression of religion. Lower courts have split on whether a federal law forbidding the government to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” applies to corporations. If it does, the road is wide open for employers to allow their religious beliefs to govern how they do business. Two appellate courts have ruled that for-profit corporations don’t have religious rights and a third says they might; what this split means is that the issue is on a certain path to the Supreme Court.
The implications of granting corporations the right to free expression of religion are horrific. The precedent, writes David H. Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, would allow companies to fire workers “for engaging in all manner of activities that may not conform to the religious code of the company’s owners, including using contraceptives or terminating a pregnancy, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, or marrying a person of the same sex.”
Oh hell, don’t stop there. Including working at all if you’re a woman, including not being submissive if you’re a woman, including not being submissive if you’re not of the Chosen race or the halal religion, including not wearing a hijab if you’re a woman, including sending your girl children to school, including failing to whip your children when they are naughty – and on and on. Let’s not sugar the pill, here. Contraceptives and abortion, pregnancy outside marriage and same-sex marriage are the items that seem likelier to go down right away, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Or, to put it another way, the availability heuristic.) Mandatory prayer, mandatory fasting, mandatory going without water as well as food from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, even at a construction company in Arizona where the job site tends to get hot and dry…It would be theocracy in action, and it would be a fucking nightmare.
The broader issue is the distinction between the secular and religious enshrined in the Constitution and our political culture. The corporate charters issued by government bestow numerous privileges that profit business owners, such as limited liability and access to special provisions of bankruptcy law and the tax code. In return, businesses have to comply with anti-discrimination laws and other public mandates. That’s the deal.
These business owners don’t want to give up these privileges. But they do want to shed the obligations of functioning in a secular world. They want to have things both ways — they want to keep their secular rights, without having to comply with their secular obligations.
And they want that so that they can impose their hateful tiny-minded oppressive shit on all of us. They want universal theocracy.
This is another attempt to blur a line that has already become far too blurry. The Obama administration arguably gave too much away when it offered religious groups a way around meeting the contraception mandates of the Affordable Care Act for their secular arms, such as hospitals that serve secular communities and hire staff without regard to religious affiliation. We’re seeing a steady encroachment of religious dogma into medical treatment, as when St. Joseph Health System imposed an abortion ban at Newport Beach’s Hoag Memorial Hospital, a Presbyterian institution it took over this year.
The Obama admin absolutely did give way too much away when it did that, and of course the Catholic bishops demanded (and alas got) way too much. The Catholic bishops are not the bosses of us, but in many ways they’re getting to impose their rules on us. It’s an outrage.