Divine Incorporation?

April 26, 2013
Sabina Khan

An arts and craft chain by the name of Hobby Lobby is suing the Federal government for the right to force employees to abide by the owners’ religious beliefs. The Green family ownership claims that the right to exercise their religion has been violated by recent legislation.

Hobby Lobby is now the largest corporation to claim religious freedom as a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A major flaw with the Green’s claim is that articles of incorporation make Hobby Lobby a separate entity from its owner. This legal separation cannot be eliminated in order for the Hobby Lobby's owners to impose their personal religious beliefs on its employees. When the owners of a company incorporate, their personal wealth is protected in case of bankruptcy or litigation. At the very least it is hypocritical for the owners to then expect their personal beliefs to trump those of their employees.

Special statutory provisions do exist for religious organizations to deny their employees certain protections of federal law. Hobby Lobby, however, is a for-profit secular corporation and not a religious organization. It is not affiliated with any religious entity such as a church and neither does any religious organization play a role in Hobby Lobby’s management. It has 500 stores in 41 States and employs more than 13,000 people and, per their own hiring policy, “Hobby Lobby welcomes employees of all faiths or no faith”.

The CEO, David Green and his family oppose providing insurance coverage for the FDA approved contraceptive methods citing that it is against his religion. However, the employees are not hired based on their religious beliefs and neither was the company formed for a religious purpose. Covering contraceptives under the health insurance is not trampling on any religious rights of the corporation. Ironically, these pieces of the law all happen to be created to protect women’s rights.

Hobby Lobby takes in $2.6 Billion in sales annually and women form a majority of its employees. If the CEO has his way, they will all be denied basic health care services such as co-pay free birth control pills that other women will continue to have access to while working for other corporations. So far the government has been clear that they are not asking Hobby Lobby to advocate anything contrary to their religion. The employer’s only role here is to provide health coverage for their employees, and it is up to their employees to decide how to use it.

The Affordable Care regulations went into effect on January 1, 2013. By not adhering to the new law, Hobby Law is facing a $1.3 million a day fine since the beginning of the new year. For the moment, Hobby Lobby has found a loophole to delay incurring fines by shifting their health plan dates.

Meanwhile, they continue to pursue their case through the lower courts after failing to convince the Federal Supreme Court to grant an emergency appeal. By following due process, there is still the potential for the arguments to find their way to the High Court. Keep in mind that this is the same Supreme Court that upheld the Affordable Health Care Act last summer yet also ruled previously that corporations have the same first amendment right to free speech as human beings. There is a real possibility that they could see fit to extend religious beliefs to corporations as well. Granting a corporation the ability to force their spiritual beliefs upon employees would be a dangerous precedent to set for a country built upon a separation of church and state.

If you are concerned with the growing trend of corporate personhood, you can contact your Legislators and voice concerns directly, but many people are joining together to boost their collective voice. The Move to Amend Coalition is working to pass a Constitutional amendment make clear that constitutional rights only apply to human beings. Join the movement at http:// www.movetoamend.org.

Sabina Khan is a Communications Intern with Move to Amend. She is Master's graduate in Conflict Resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and tweets @ksabina

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