The Supreme Court will rule next year on whether or not corporations can have faith.
The cases accepted by the court offer complex questions about religious freedom and equality for female workers, along with an issue the court has not yet confronted: whether secular, for-profit corporations are excepted by the Constitution or federal statute from complying with a law because of their owners’ religious beliefs.
The justices accepted two cases that produced opposite results in lower courts.
One was brought by the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain that its owner, David Green, said is run on biblical principles. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver said forcing the company to comply with the contraceptive mandate would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law providing special protections for religious expression.
In a divided opinion, the appeals court relied in part on the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which said corporations have political speech rights just as individuals do in spending on elections.
“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote for the majority.
The second case went the other way. A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia ruled that Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company owned by a Mennonite family, must comply with the contraceptive mandate.
In both cases, the plaintiffs are conservative Christians who object to contraception and don’t want to be a part of allowing their employees to use birth control. Given the current make-up of the Court, it’s 50-50 that they could rule in favor of the plaintiffs and thereby open the floodgates of evangelicals objecting to everything that touches their particular faith, including discrimination against certain people or people of a certain color or ethnicity and have the Court’s tacit backing for it.
That also lets the door swing the other way. Say you have a business that is run by a religious person who is a progressive; a Quaker, perhaps. He or she views over-population as a mortal threat to the planet and therefore requires that every employee, male and female, have contraception coverage on their insurance plan regardless of the employee’s faith and practice. If there are any hard-core Catholics in the company who object to having that rider on their insurance, well, too bad. (Of course, no true Quaker would ever do that.)
It goes beyond health insurance. What if the company owner is Orthodox Jewish and requires that the company allows only kosher food in the building, even for those who aren’t Jewish. Can he be penalized for firing a worker who brings a cheeseburger or clam chowder for lunch?
I will begrudgingly give ground to churches who don’t want to hire LGBT people if their doctrine includes gay-bashing even though I’m indirectly supporting them by allowing them to skate around the tax code. But I draw a very bright line when it comes to for-profit businesses whose owners feel that their own personal religious peccadilloes have any bearing on the lives of their employees.
If you want to make millions of dollars and use the Ten Commandments as your business model, open a mega-church.