By Wiha Powell
Once again, the Supreme Court seems to be on the brink of opening another Pandora’s Box; spilling all sorts of
travails with its invention of religious rights for corporations.
On March 25, 2014, the Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. The question put before the Court is whether corporations, like people, should have religious rights. This is the latest consolidated challenge to the Affordable Care Act and its contraceptive mandate, which requires large for-profit employers to provide insurance packages that cover birth controls or pay a fine. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim that this mandate violates the religious belief of the corporations and their First Amendment rights where “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
A similar case was brought before the Supreme Court in 1990. In Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, the question put before the Court was “whether the religious use of peyote is legal is Oregon, since that question is relevant to the federal constitutional analysis.” The Court held that the denials significantly burdened respondents’ religious freedom in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution.
In reaching that conclusion, the Court attached no significance to the fact that peyote possession is a felony in Oregon, declaring that the legality of ingesting peyote did not affect its analysis of the state’s interest in denying benefits, which must be found in the unemployment compensation, rather than the criminal statutes. The ruling, however, was overturned by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that the “government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.”
The Act further says that the government can limit “a person’s exercise of religion, only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person … is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The question remains, should a corporation have religious rights?
No, because a corporation is a lifeless and non-living vessel that is only liable for debts, misconduct and criminality that basically shields its owners. Even though some may argue that a corporation is a person, a legal person or entity, a thing that has distinct existence but not life nor is a human being.
So for the mere fact that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga believes that corporations should have First Amendment religious rights is laughable. They are imposing their religious views on their employees by interfering with the ‘free exercise thereof’ and the rights of employees’ choice for birth control.
Both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga fail to understand that the government has a compelling interest in promoting healthcare for everyone and not to interfere in the decision between a patient and their doctor. Therefore, it is reasonable that the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act does not affect business owners’ ability to worship.
If the Court makes a decision to create religious rights for corporations, it would be the third major constitutional right the Court has invented for corporations. Such a ruling will overturn the nation’s long-standing precedent that America is a secular nation; a nation that protects equally the beliefs of both Christians and atheists.
Giving First Amendments religious rights to corporation would be a very bad pun. It raises the question: to what extent does Hobby Lobby’s opposition to contraception have to do with religious exercise and how much is just political opposition to the Affordable Care Act.