Corporate Personhood

Published: March 30, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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Hold on folks, we’re about to enter The Corporate Zone – that bizzaro world where upholding the law and common sense go to die. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, corporations are not only people entitled to as much free speech as money can buy, but may soon be able to claim that their religious beliefs can determine what they provide employees by way of health insurance.

Under the Affordable Care Act, large companies are now required to offer comprehensive health insurance which includes coverage for contraception or pay a tax. The act does exempt religious organizations. However, some employers with strongly held religious beliefs, believe that ACA infringes on their First Amendment rights. Two companies, Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties challenged the requirement, saying it conflicts with the company’s religious principles.

The case has the very real potential to go far beyond contraception.

“In a brief filed this month,” The New York Times writes (Mar. 24), “Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. warned the justices that a broad decision striking down the contraception provision could imperil minimum wage and overtime laws, Social Security taxes and vaccination requirements, all of which have been subject to religious challenges in earlier cases.

“Another brief, from California, 14 other states and the District of Columbia, argued that such a decision would allow businesses to seek to deny coverage for blood transfusions, immunizations, treatments involving stem cells and psychiatric care.”

However, the best argument on this case, and all its glorious ramifications comes from Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. OnThe Daily Show, Stewart plays a clip from NBC reporter Pete Williams (Mar. 25) who says “The government has to take Hobby Lobby’s religious views as they come. So off the table is any question about the accuracy of how Hobby Lobby and another company, Conestoga, would view these contraceptives as agents of causing abortion.”

Cut back to a stunned Stewart who, with the help of mock-legal analyst Jordan Klepper skillfully exposes the absurdity of Hobby Lobby’s argument.

“So let me get this straight,” Stewart deadpans, “corporations aren’t just people, they’re ill-informed people, whose factually incorrect beliefs must be upheld because they sincerely believe them … What would a biblically based insurance plan even cover?”

Klepper: “stoning-related injury, flood damage. It’s a great pre-modern medicine, first-century, biblically based health plan that covers you from birth through your elderly years, which I believe is up to 36 years on this plan.”

So, now we have corporations using the bible to determine what medical treatments they will offer their employees. What’s next, bible-based text books for school-age kids that teach that the earth is only 6,000 years old?

Wait, Tennessee is already trying to do just that.

PBS News Hour reporter Marcia Coyle points to one of the court’s liberal justice’s response: “Justice Sotomayor said, what about religious adherents who don’t believe in transfusions, blood transfusions, vaccinations? And [Hobby Lobby attorney] Mr. Clement responded, well, it does depend on the burden that’s being placed. … It’s possible the government would have a compelling interest in imposing that burden.  But there’s no compelling interest here in this particular case.”

“All right,” Stewart responds, “what sayeth the man who will actually decide this case, swing justice Kennedy?”

ABC NEWS (3/25/2014): “Justice Kennedy focused on employers’ rights, saying if a business can be forced to pay for all types of contraception, they can ‘be forced in principle to pay for abortions.’ ”

“Well, right, in principle,” Stewart explains. “In fact, it would be the opposite of yes for that, which I believe is no, because contraception is not the same thing as abortion. That’s a scientific fact.”

“If Hobby Lobby were to prevail, the consequences would extend far beyond the issue of contraception,” said Walter Dellinger, a former acting United States solicitor general who filed a brief urging the court to uphold the law.

“Objections to laws based on religious beliefs can arise in many settings, and supporters of the coverage requirement say a ruling for the company could frustrate the enforcement of laws addressing health, safety and civil rights.”

“We would be entering a new world in which, for the first time, commercial enterprises could successfully claim religious exemptions from laws that govern everyone else,” Dellinger said.

The high court is due to decide the issue by the end of June.


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