Are corporations people? Mitt Romney famously declared to a heckler that they were. Yet corporations don’t go to prison for their crimes, they don’t pay individual tax rates, they don’t attend church, they don’t go door to door to campaign, and they have no corporeal body. It’s been said that the corporation was one of the single greatest business inventions ever devised. Perhaps so, and I certainly wouldn’t argue the point. To state the obvious, it allowed for people to gather together, create a business, and protect themselves individually from being personally bankrupted. One could argue that this alone has stimulated more new businesses than any other single cause.
In very recent years the current Supreme Court has given additional meaning to the definition of a corporation. They are now people with First Amendment rights that can contribute to campaigns. Even though Congress had said otherwise, this “non-activist” conservative high court said that Congress was wrong. In 1976, the high court said that money counts as speech. Combine corporations and money as people exercising their free speech rights, and you have a whole new chemical solution, one that I don’t think is for the better.
There are those who are rejoicing in the Hobby Lobby decision that said closely held, for profit corporations may ignore a statue providing for birth control under the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) if it violates their religious beliefs. Considering that this was a 5-4 opinion, it is clear that there was and is a lot of division on this issue. The Obama Administration had already conceded that organizations which exist strictly for religious purposes, such as houses of worship, were exempt from the ACA. Then came the challenge from Hobby Lobby, a privately held corporation with more than 700 stores nationwide. The Green family, which owns the bulk of the privately held shares, believed that it violated their religious freedom to have to provide for certain contraceptives. It didn’t matter that the many thousands of employees of Hobby Lobby weren’t hired based on their religious beliefs, that the workers were paid only for their labor and to make money for the company. It also doesn’t matter to the Green family that more than ninety percent of their merchandise comes from Communist China, a country that freely performs and encourages abortions.
Justice Alito, who wrote the Hobby Lobby opinion, stated that the court’s ruling would not affect laws that deal with mandatory immunizations, blood transfusions, and various forms of discrimination. I read that comment to be dicta, or his own opinion that doesn’t go to the actual holding of the case. So there is no guarantee that there won’t be lawsuits claiming that one’s religious faith is violated if forced to comply with the forgoing laws. In fact, I suspect that there will be many new cases claiming First Amendment protections. I wonder if on a local level, if I objected to paying school taxes because I considered it blasphemous for any student of a certain faith to sit with others of different faiths, could I claim a tax exemption, particularly if it was my child?
The trend of the Republican Five on the current Supreme Court is to separate Americans into different groups. Those with deep pockets can spend their money in ways that can literally buy elections. Now a law of general application, the ACA, has had an important component overturned based on the faith of a profit making owner of a large company that sells extensively in interstate commerce. Our national motto, the one that goes back to the founding of our nation was, “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One. Those are magnificent words that once gave meaning to The United States of America.
When we are all subject to the same laws of general application no one points fingers at someone getting a special break. People would have no reason to say that they would/would not shop at Hobby Lobby because of their religious exemptions. I grew up in NYC surrounded by more religious faiths and ethnicities than probably anywhere in the country. Neither got in the way of friendships or commerce. I see that changing with personal religious convictions evolving from being a private matter to becoming more public. The Hobby Lobby and recent prayer case illustrate my point.
All is not lost. There will be lawyers who prosper from the proliferation of lawsuits to challenge what they perceive to be violations of someone’s First Amendment freedoms. And that puts money into the economy. Here’s hoping that some of it will trickle down to a few of us.