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New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights lawyer discusses Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and its impact on “Obama Care” and abortion rights

On Behalf of | Mar 25, 2014 | Employee Rights |

Or… “Corporations Don’t Have Faith.”

I’ve blogged more than once on the incredible cynicism of the United Stated Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2001). That atrocious decision created the logically, legally and morally unsustainable view that corporations are “people,” and that they have rights to contribute to political campaigns as an exercise of their “free speech” rights, rights that all “people” have under our Constitution.

The issue in that case was whether or not corporations could create “super-PACs” and influence elections disproportionately. Being a conservative-stacked and minded Supreme Court owing to the right wing republicanism that got the majority in position, it was distressing, but not surprising that the decision in Citizens United was one that has damaged, and will continue to damage, the nation’s political landscape, the majority of its people, its reputation, and the very core of the values we continue to claim for its founding. In short, the Citizens United decision was a travesty, and, as predicted – both by myself and by thousands of other legal commentators and thinkers – its reverberations continue to do harm in ever more creative ways.

For a corporation to claim “personhood” is a direct lie. A corporation is not a “person.” As I’ve said in other blogs, a person is a “person.” People have thoughts, feelings, nerve impulses, and consciences developed by biological evolution and the by the process of society. Corporations are paper constructions designed to maximize the intake of dollars and the distribution of same. There is nothing inherently evil in the corporate model; it’s done wonders for the world’s economy. There is something tremendously evil, ignorant and hypocritical, however, in suggesting that the corporation is more than what it is. I’ve always argued that there’s something inherently evil – and societally reckless – in allowing the individuals who make decisions to maximize profits (often at the expensive of morality, law, safety and lives) to immunize themselves from personal accountability for what they’ve done, simply because they did so in service of the corporation.

That corporate reality is the only corporate reality that humanity has experienced; self-serving commercials, websites, and charitable contributions notwithstanding. Anybody who is intellectually honest, regardless of their position in society and regardless of their education, knows what a corporation really is. When people talk out of their rear-ends about the Citizens United decision and how “fair” it is for corporations to behave like “people,” they’re lying to themselves and to anyone who happens to be listening. I don’t care if they’re a Judge, an attorney, or if the person holds 11 PhD’s. They know that what they’re saying is nonsense; unless they’re saying it in a political echo-chamber where everyone else is lying to themselves as well, anyone who listens to the nonsense knows it for what it is.

And on that theme of consequences flowing from that horrid decision, enter the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.

Now, according to this piece of work, a corporation is not only a person, but a corporation can have a religion. How does that grab you? A corporation – a piece of paper – has a religious belief.

I have warned before, as have many others, about the unfortunate consequences of the logical extension of the Citizens United decision. If a corporation has a right to “free speech” and therefore uses that “right” to improperly donate to, and influence the election of, corporate-friendly candidates, then a corporation has all the other rights that a “person” has. How stupid.

In this case, which it is anticipated will be decided next month, we are going to find out whether or not the United States Supreme Court is going to step back from its invention of “homocorpiens” – new kind of “person” – or whether they’re going to go right on playing while the titanic (our culture) sinks, by its hand.

“Hobby Lobby” is an arts and crafts corporation with about 500 stores and roughly 13,000 employees. The owners of the company claim to operate the company “in a manner consistent with biblical principles”, according to filings in the case. Obviously, I don’t know what the hell that means. “Biblical” principles, I’ve learned, are pretty much whatever someone says they are. The Bible is so rife with inconsistencies, contradictions, nonsense and pure fantasy that its only practical use is as an allegory. So for someone to suggest that they’re operating a business based upon biblical principles is, effectively, impossible, because those “principles” are entirely subjective.

To an attorney, subjective = danger.

They also say in their filings, therefore, that corporate policy flows from the belief of the owners that “human life begins when sperm fertilizes an egg… [and that] it is “immoral” for them to facilitate any act that causes the death of a human embryo.” Obviously, the owners of the corporation don’t give a rat’s ass about whether or not those 13,000 employees personally agree or disagree with this entirely religious view, but we can assure ourselves that, people being people, at least some of them, if not an overwhelming majority of them, don’t.

The company sought an injunction under the Orwellian (dishonestly) named “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” to avoid having to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s Contraceptive Mandates. By the way: for those of you who don’t know the correct name of the derisively named “Obama Care” Law, that’s it. It’s appropriately named, giving its intentions and the wide sweeping changes (for the good) that national healthcare will provide. Of course, the opponents (always good at the blame game and the name game), derisively named the Act “Obama Care”, as if it’s somehow the personal fiefdom of our currently sitting President, rather than a measure to help millions of Americans and thereby, help all Americans.

Also in Orwellian fashion, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” is a joke, passed purely to give professionals and corporations the ability to trample the rights of others under the guise of “religious freedom”, as if somehow, jackbooted soldiers have been marching across the United States attacking religion at every turn. As far as I can recall, churches, mosques, synagogues and meeting houses are all pretty much fine for the last couple of decades, and when people go inside them to pray, or pray in their homes, no one is telling them they can’t. That Act, obviously, is not meant to “protect” religion at all. Its function is to attack civil liberties of those who are not religious.

Last summer, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor, with a majority of the Judges concluding that the First Amendment does protect a corporation’s “right” to free religious expression. This doesn’t surprise me, because the Tenth Circuit is also particularly well-stocked with conservatively minded Judges. On the other hand, at around the same time, the Third Circuit ruled the other way in a similar challenge by a Pennsylvania cabinet making company, and so, because there is a conflict in the circuit courts, the controversy now goes to the Supreme Court for resolution.

I’m terrified at what might happen. The Citizens United decision, joke that it is, is that sort of awful joke that, being as horrible as it is, the perpetrators never want to admit is a mistake. The emperor is still wearing no clothes, as far as the Supreme Court is concerned. Because I feel that this is their mentality, or at least that of the majority, I think they’re going to find that a corporation has the right to religious expression.

If that happens, then it’s going to open the door for any company that wants to simply refuse to comply with the Affordable Act’s Contraceptive Mandate, impairing the rights of millions of Americans, but it gets much worse from there. What about HIV testing? What about vaccinations? What if those companies decide that they’re going to withhold taxes because of their objections to what happens with tax money? All of this is going to come under the rubric of the vile potion created by Citizens United and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This is a damned nightmare, and I only hope that as a country, we can wake up from it. Regardless of whether or not you’re religious, regardless of whether or not you’re a democrat or a republican, I can’t believe that a sensible, rational person wants a country in which corporations get to decide morality for workers that may not share their subjective sense of morality, and where national policy protects these inconsistencies and bigotries. You can’t want this. No one can want this.

Hope the Supreme Court does the right thing. I am afraid they won’t.