Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Know You’re Religious: Hobby Lobby, Corporations, Personhood and Religious Liberty

So claims Hobby Lobby in its law suit against the obligations of what’s been nicknamed Obamacare: that the corporation is, under the laws of the United States, a ‘person’ and as a ‘person’, it is a religious ‘person’ with particular ‘religious’ belief which preclude it (he?  she?) from providing certain types of birth control insurance coverage to its employees.

So the question now seems to become whether a corporation, a legal ‘person’, can be ‘religious’.

Well, there actually are ways to know whether an actual (as opposed to a legal) person is religious:

1. To what religion does the person adhere?  When a person is religious, it’s actually an easy question to answer.

2. What church/synagogue/mosque/meeting house does the person attend?  Ditto #1.

3. What are the tenets of the religion to which the person adheres?  Ditto.  Whether they’re sensible to others isn’t actually the question.  But what the tenets actually are is.

4. What are the religious texts applicable to the person’s beliefs?  Ditto.

These are fairly straightforward questions for a genuine person.  But what does a corporation read?  Nothing.  It cannot read for it has no eyes.  What worship house does a corporation attend?  None.  It has no legs and a wheel chair will not help it get there.  Where does a corporation tithe?  (Trust me when I tell you that if this corporation were an evangelical ‘person’, it would be a person required to tithe.)  To what religious authority does the corporation submit for discipline?  A person’s behavior can and does come under the discipline of its religious authority.  But there is no body to discipline, for a corporation is an idea put to paper.  Ideas may be condemned, but they are notoriously difficult to discipline.  To what church/synagogue/ mosque does the corporation belong?  None.  It can’t.

Think this is silly?  Then let’s ask when the corporation was baptized.  To belong to any evangelical Christian church with which I am aware, one must be baptized.  It’s a non-negotiable.  I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to imagine what a corporation’s baptism would look like.

And there immediately arises a very practical differentiation that must need occur: this ‘exception’ that Hobby Lobby seeks, could always and only apply to privately-held corporations.  There are many such entities, but it is impossible (at least under currently existing laws as I understand them) for there to be anything approaching religious unanimity of the stockholders of a publicly-traded entity: in order for that to be so, save the extremely random element of chance, the entity would have to discriminate against those seeking to acquire publicly-traded stock on the basis of their religion.

And it wouldn’t be enough that the stockholders even be all Christian, for example: they would all have to be Christians of the particular view that birth control is wrong/sinful/immoral.

Public activities overseen by the government cannot discriminate against persons on the basis of their religion/religious beliefs.  That’s the very point of the law suit brought by Hobby Lobby.

And here’s the practical problem with even a privately-owned entity: how does one know that the claims of religiosity are universally held by the private shareholders?  Hobby Lobby says that in its trust documents, all trustees must be ‘Christians’.  It does not say that they must all be evangelical Christians who are against certain forms of birth control.  And I’m willing to bet (although I could be wrong) that there are at least a few women among the family that set this business up in the first place who actually have used the IUD (one of the forms of birth control that would be problematic according to their ‘theology’ – assuming women are given any voice in the company).

What the folks filing this law suit are actually trying to say is that some or all of the people who are stockholders (or in this case trustees) of the legal entity we call a ‘corporation’ themselves hold certain religious view which conflict with the obligations of Obamacare when it comes to providing contraceptive care insurance coverage.

I feel their pain.

When it came time to ‘sign up’ as a minister, I wanted to opt out of Social Security because I did not want to provide any monies to my federal government, directly or indirectly, that would be utilized for our war efforts.  Plain and simple, that violates each and every tenet of my faith as I understand it.

But then I read the rules of opting out.  What they said was that I had to be able to state (remember the part of Christianity that says your yes is to be yes and your no, no) that my religion prohibits participation in Social Security.  The fact is that my religion does not prohibit participation in Social Security.  Nowhere close.  So I had to participate.  Or I had to (at least be willing to) go to jail by simply refusing to comply.  I thought about that.  I still do, every tax day.  Thus far, I’ve not been willing to make that sacrifice.  That may make me a coward (trust me when I tell you that I feel that condemnation deep in my soul).  But it also makes it my choice.

I am a person.  Not a theoretical person.  An actual person.  And I am free to choose when, where and how to take my ethical stands.

If a corporation is a person, it too can make such decisions.  It can ‘decide’ to make a moral stand and face the consequences.  That, actually, and contrary to what Hobby Lobby asserts, is a choice.

Jesus never promised us good choices and neither did the United States Constitution.

So, Hobby Lobby, if you are a person and this really does violate your moral conscience, woman up and make the choice and face the consequences.

Religious people have been doing that for a very long time now.  You’ll be in good company.

But it’s a problem for you, isn’t it?  Because you’re not a person; you’re a legal fiction and your particular legal fiction sets your ultimate reason for existing the serving (financially) of your owners/stockholders/ trustees in a way that does nothing to hurt the financial standing of your shareholders (trustees).  It actually has a name, this concept:  fiduciary duty.

It would be immoral for you to violate that duty according to your own construct, your own reason for being.

What a conundrum that must be for you.


  1. There you go again- Miss Beth of using your brain- thinking things through and actually understanding a particular ethic and holding yourself and the entity you are talking to accountable for it.

    If only we all had that ability to understand the things we say and the ethical implications they have on our lives both privately and publically.

    Thanks for another Thought provoking insight

    your friend and fan

  2. Thank you, Melissa, and back atcha!

  3. Corporate theology always seems to indicate limiting benefits to employees as opposed to going the extra mile. Being against abortion and against gay marriage costs nothing, but being against inequality, poverty, disease and war does. Perhaps that is why abortion, gay marriage and prayer in schools seem to be the popular theological issues for conservative evangelicals. Doesn't sound much like Jesus though.

    1. Good thought - being 'against' is pretty cheap, isn't it? Costly grace always goes that extra mile, doesn't it?