Thursday, October 31, 2013

Do corporations have religious freedom?

A number of companies have challenged Obamacare because their owners do not want their employees to have access to contraception or abortions.  From Yahoo News:
Their case rests on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which says people can seek to opt out of laws if they substantially burden their free exercise of religion. The government is allowed to burden a person’s religious freedom if it can prove that it has a compelling reason to and that the law is narrowly tailored to achieve its goal. 
So far, the 3rd and 6th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that RFRA does not protect for-profit companies hoping to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to employees. “We simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation — apart from its owners — can exercise religion,” 3rd Circuit Judge Robert Cowen wrote for the majority.

But in the Hobby Lobby case, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Greens, saying the company was protected under RFRA. The judges cited Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that found corporations cannot be restricted in how they spend their money for political reasons because it infringed on their right to free speech
Ah, Citizens United, the gift that keeps on giving.

Hobby Lobby, one of the firms involved, is owned by Christian Evangelicals.  It was recently in the news because it refused to stock any items themed towards Jewish holidays, telling a Jewish customer, "we don't cater to you people."  There was a furor over this and they conceded they might include some Jewish-themed items. After all, money is money.

But I don't understand how allowing employees to choose for themselves whether or not to have contraceptive coverage in any way impinges on the employer's free practice of his faith. He doesn't even know what coverage they are using  (or shouldn't--remember what almost happened in Arizona) .  Doesn't his desire to impose his values on his employees impinge on THEIR freedom of religion?

This goes back to something we keep harping on:  Freedom to practice your religion is NOT freedom to impose your religion.


JCF said...

There's a fundemental difference of understandings of the words "freedom" (and "impose") here.

I bring that up, having just read yesterday that Maggie Gallagher of the (very anti-gay) National Organization for Marriage said she believes "SCOTUS will impose same-sex marriage on all 50 states". For Maggie, to permit (i.e. permitting FREEDOM to marry) is to "impose".

For a corporation like Hobby Lobby, their freedom envisions something like medieval Christendom: we all have to be Christian (conform to their version of Christianity), and that *by definition* IS "freedom".

Similar, is the concept of "truth". For someone like Michele Bachmann, truth comes from a "Biblical worldview". Then, and ONLY then, can the scientific method *sometimes* be used (in limited ways, always secondary to the "Biblical worldview").

Like the old saying about Americans and Brits, Conservatives and Progressives are becoming "divided by a common language."

Kevin K. said...

Well I'm not sure how a for profit corporation can have a religion. A corporation is owned by its shareholders whose interests are served by a board and corporate officers. Would the religion of a majority of the shareholders be determinative.

However, Hobby Lobby has no legal duty to stock products it does not choose to sell. I cannot see how this is imposing its religion on others. After all, it seems unlikely that a Jewish customer would, frustrated by the inability to purchase a menorah making kit and overcome by all those nativity scenes at Hobby Lobby, suddenly convert to Christianity.

IT said...

No, the whole Jewish thing was just to illustrate what sort of a firm it is. They aren't obligated to stock anything they don't want to, it's just telling what they choose to stock.