Wednesday, November 6, 2013
ConLawProfBlog's own Ruthann Robson (CUNY) just posted her thoughtful take on the several oddities that arise when courts consider whether corporations are religious persons in Puzzling Corporations: The Affordable Care Act and Contraception Mandate over at Jurist.org. Robson exposes the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies, and the unintended consequences in the on-going cases and debates over whether a for-profit corporation is a religious-rights-bearing entity that can skirt the ACA's contraception mandate.
Robson has covered the issue--whether the ACA's contraception mandate violates a corporation's religious liberties (and the included issue whether a corporation can even have religious liberties)--here (Gilardi v. HHS), here (Eden Foods v. Sebelius), here (Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius), here (Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Secretary of HHS), and, of course, here (Hobby Lobby).
Robson argues that the question whether a corporation can have religious liberties has several problems. First, the profit: historically, religious entities that enjoyed religious liberties (like those in Gonzalez v. O Centro Espirita and Church of the Lukumi Bablu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah) were nonprofits. But the Tenth Circuit ruled in Hobby Lobby that "sincerely religious persons could find a connection between the exercise of religion and the pursuit of profit." Next, "the secular shape of many corporations . . . is ill-suited to sectarianism. There is little, if anything, to alert a consumer or a job applicant that one is engaging with a religious entity." Finally, there's a slippery slope: treating a for-profit corporation as a religious-rights-bearing person could lead to exemptions for that corporation from all manner of federal requirements that interfere with the corporation's "beliefs."
Robson also shows why attributing the free exercise claims of shareholders to a corporation, or pass-through, is a problem. "In asserting religious rights, corporations seek to pierce their own corporate veils for the purposes of some sectarian principles such as contraception coverage for employees, but presumably to keep their protective masks in place regarding personal liability."
Treating all these claims as sincerely held religious beliefs probably gives them too much credit, though. As Robson reminds us, Eden Food's founder's case wasn't really a religious objection to the contraception mandate. Instead, it was a "laissez-faire, anti-government screed" (the Sixth Circuit's phrase, not Robson's), with decidedly "sexist and anti-worker" overtones (Robson's phrase, not the Sixth Circuit's). So Robson asks, "If a corporation can have a religion, is it coincidence that its most deeply held and sincere beleifs are in opposition to equality and democracy?"