Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Religious Freedom" for Corporations = Slavery for Workers

When (not if) the U.S. Supremely Conservatard Court rules that corporations have First Amendment rights of religion, what is to stop WalMart from claiming that as xian believers in the literal, inerrant word of the bibble they are entitled - nay, required - to keep slaves?

Nothing, that's what will stop them.  Just as Citizen's United was supposed to "correct" a narrow section of law regarding corporate contributions but in fact unleashed direct purchase of elections by billionaires, the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases are going to turn American Democracy into a Corporate Theocracy that combines the worst aspects of Gilded Age robber barons and Saudi Arabian freakazoids.

Think Progress:

Hobby Lobby, the giant craft retailer known for providing knitting wool, holiday trinkets, fake flowers, and just about any other craft-centric material one could need, balks at providing certain types of medical care for its employees. That is because the company, which has 559 stores across the country and brings in $3 billion in revenue each year, is owned by the Green family—devout Christians who believe that human life begins at conception and that using certain types of birth control violates their religious beliefs.

The Greens, who often have Hobby Lobby buy newspaper ads encouraging people to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” also think that their religious beliefs should be imposed on Hobby Lobby’s 22,000 employees. Because of their religious convictions, the Greens have asked a federal court, in a case called Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, to exempt their for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer health plans covering contraception.

In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that minimum standards for employer health plans would include preventive care for women, including mammograms, cervical-cancer screenings, prenatal care, and contraceptives—all services that are vital to women’s health and well-being. The Obama administration provided an exemption from the contraception-coverage requirement for “religious employers”—churches and nonprofit religious organizations—but not for for-profit, secular corporations such as Hobby Lobby. 

Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius is one of 40 lawsuits filed across the country asking federal courts to exempt a for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement. It is also one part of a coordinated effort led by conservative legal groups to undermine the Affordable Care Act and avoid complying with other laws.

In June, an all-male majority of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Greens and ruled that corporations have religious rights equal to living, breathing humans. The panel of judges said that asking Hobby Lobby to provide contraception coverage would violate the corporation’s religious freedom under federal law.

Two other cases have already made it through the Courts of Appeals in the 3rd and 6th Circuits where the courts have not been as easily swayed by corporations’ religious arguments. The 3rd and 6th Circuits split from the 10th Circuit and held that for-profit corporations do not have religious rights. On September 19, both Hobby Lobby and the 3rd Circuit case, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, were appealed up to the Supreme Court; the current circuit split makes it likely that the Court will agree to hear one of these cases this term. If a majority of the justices agree with the “corporate conscience” argument—that for-profit corporations can have religious beliefs—thousands of American women will be denied access to critical health care, simply because their bosses do not believe in contraception.

If the Supreme Court were to side with Hobby Lobby, it would be another piece of pro-corporate precedent from an increasingly pro-business court. Such a decision would also impact how we define religious liberty in America. Will corporations soon be permitted to override the religious-freedom rights of their employees? What other types of exemptions will these corporations have? Will these companies be free to disregard all civil rights laws barring discrimination?

As 10th Circuit Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, the only active woman on that appeals court, wrote in her Hobby Lobby dissent, the court’s holding is “unprecedented” and no one “can confidently predict where it may lead, particularly when one considers how easily an ‘exercise of religion’ could now be asserted by a corporation to avoid or take advantage of any government rule or requirement.”

It is exactly because of this possibility that the justices, should the Supreme Court take one of these religious-exemption cases, must recognize that corporations were never intended to have religious-freedom rights.
The Supremely Conservatard Court has, indeed, accepted both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga for the express purpose of establishing a religio-corporate state beyond the wildest dreams of either the Dominionists or the Randians.

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist papers or the mountains of correspondence among the Founders to suggest that the Establishment clause of the First Amendment was ever intended to allow individuals or corporations to claim exemption from the law.  I doubt even Alexander Hamilton could countenance that.

But here we are.

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