If corporations are persons

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.

The LA Times has a useful article by its business columnist on the “do corporations have a ‘religious conscience’?” question.

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.


  1. Claire Ramsey says

    Paging Catholic health care systems: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020875885_catholichealthxml.html

    Paging Hobby Lobby: http://www.religionnews.com/2013/10/03/update-hobby-lobby-apologizes-hanukkah-flap/

    Allowing corporations to have a religious conscience is a sickening prospect. And if you ask me it is blatantly un-American.

    Next up: Corporations claim to be “having a bad day” and announce that they wish they had become child abusers rather than corporations.

  2. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    I am opposed to the death penalty, but I look forward to the day a corporation is sentenced to death.

  3. Gordon Willis says

    The social ramifications would be all-embracing. It would change the very basis of your society. In one way or another, businesses represent everything that we depend on in Western society. Profit-for-God is the ultimate winner for the unscrupulous. Greed will attain the pinnacle of justification. All society, at every level, will be their victims. Your glorious Constitution won’t be worth the paper it’s written on (if any printers are still prepared to print it).

    Religion has a way of making black white. Indeed, that is one of the reasons it exists (theodicy, par example). At the very least, there’s always the belief that God will care for his own (and look at all the money I’m making!) or, in other words, that religion is so obviously good that believers cannot be selfish and what they do is therefore right, if they truly have faith (which really means, faith that what they do is right). Do you remember something about rich men and eyes of needles and selling everything and giving to the poor? Well, it’s in there somewhere, but it’s clearly not part of the true faith. Religion is the finest cover for every kind and degree of wickedness. Whatever religious tradition says, it’s what the owners want that counts. This is all but impossible to resist, but once the corporations have leverage with God Almighty you will be sunk without a life-jacket.

    Obviously, an enterprise cannot have a free expression of anything. Only an individual person can. An enterprise is not a person, but an abstract entity. If it’s going to be a religious enterprise, I suppose it will have to become a Church, Inc. or something of the sort. So only converts need apply for jobs. They’ll probably maintain that the enterprise expresses the religious convictions of the owners, though it’s strange that no one knew that till there was something to be gained by saying so.

    Personally, I would sooner starve than work for such people, but that won’t happen on a wide scale, and they know it. I suppose that they will maintain that the enterprise is an expression of their beliefs, something they were called to to make money for God (and see the proof, though I doubt whether God will ever get any of it). Your Constitution will be destroyed by beliefs, and all the rights of man will be blasphemy in the sight of the Supreme CEO. This is really war by other means.

  4. Gordon Willis says

    Perhaps they should be asked to prove that production is an act of worship. Oh no, of course, it’s already covered, isn’t it? “Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,/Makes that and the action fine”. But, just maybe, it’s harder to prove than they might think.

  5. Gordon Willis says

    One last thought (sorry about this), but on an earlier post, about Liz, I said that I believed that slavery was the foundation of human civilisation. Historically, that is true (I think). However, our civilisation has begun to get beyond that, but slavery is still with us. It probably will always be with us, like the need for women’s rights (because of slavery). So we have to keep on fighting. I don’t think we will ever be able to stop. Complacency is death.

  6. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    I will believe that corporations are people when one comes home from Afghanistan in a body bag.

  7. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    A corporation is a legal entity but it is not a person. It is a conglomeration of people or other corporations, its owners, some of whom have more authority than others. It can hire people, as a legal entity. However, since any person in it can be replaced by another person, and since it can be owned entirely by other corporations, I fail to see how it can ever have a religious conscience. The people employed by corporations, however, are actual individuals who have a right to freedom of conscience. How can their right to control their lives in their private sphere be trumped by the meddling of a soulless, multi-part organization?

    If anyone in this picture has a right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, it is the individuals.

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