2014-03-25 / Opinion

Corporate religion


Arguments are being heard today at the Supreme Court that will decide whether the corporation you work for can exercise its “religious” sensibilities — of which a corporation has absolutely none — and, in effect, to decide whether it will interfere in decisions between you and your doctor.

A company called Hobby Lobby does not want to pay for contraceptive care for its employees. The founders of the company, the David and Barbara Green, say that to do so would violate their religious beliefs.

However, the corporation they created, like all corporations everywhere, is completely areligious. It’s not a human person with human emotions, human hopes and fears, or human desires. It doesn’t believe in the Greens’ god, because it doesn’t believe in anything.

The Greens elected to make their company a corporation to protect themselves from all manners of evil, including losing their shirts in a lawsuit. Now, if Hobby Lobby is sued, it will be the corporation that loses its metaphorical shirt. But by so doing, they stripped from the company the thing they would like to interject back into it — religious sensibility. They can’t have it both ways.

The Supreme Court will have to weigh the fictitious “religion” of the corporation, which the Greens would like to equate with their own religion, and the religions, or lack thereof, of the employees of that corporation, which may or may not be the same as that of the Greens.

The people who work for the corporation do have a right to exercise their religion, even if it is different from the Greens’. And Hobby Lobby is bound by the Civil Rights Act and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules that forbid them from discriminating against anyone in the workplace for any reason, including the religion of their employees.

And Hobby Lobby will have to pass the Sherbert test — it will have to prove that its religious beliefs are sincere, and that the government mandate creates a substantial burden on the corporation.

The problem for Hobby Lobby is, they’d been providing full health insurance before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, and paying for the exact same drugs. So this suit seems to be more about their political aversion to the ACA than their religious aversion to contraception per se.

The court will also have to decide on a simple test. Is the law generally applicable or does it single out a specific religious belief for punishment?

The answer, unfortunately for Hobby Lobby, is, of course it is generally applicable. Religious employers do not get to pick and choose the kind of health care their employees may receive. The Christian Science Monitor does not get to decide they won’t pay for blood transfusions; a Hindu employer can’t decide not to pay for health care if an employee suffers indigestion from eating underdone beef.

No one — corporation or not — has the right to force a particular religion on an employee.

We expect the Supreme Court to see this for what it is, and hope a firm denial of Hobby Lobby’s case will put an end, once and for all, to the absurdity around the religious sensibilities of a fictitious “person.”

Return to top