Supreme Court to Decide Whether Corporations Can Pray

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The Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to a provision in Obamacare which requires that insurers cover preventive health care without co-pays.

In this May 22, 2013, customers enter and exit a Hobby Lobby store in Denver. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

Three private companies — Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and Autocam – are arguing that the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in the basket of minimum benefits required by the law violates their owners’ First Amendment right to exercise their religion as they see fit.

The Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), which filed an amicus brief in these cases, has an issue brief about the litigation. They note that actual religious organizations are already exempt from the law, meaning, “non-profit organizations whose ‘purpose’ is ‘the inculcation of religious values,’ and which ‘primarily employ[] persons who share the religious tenets of the organization,’ and ‘serve[] primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.’” But…

Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and Autocam fail each and every aspect of this definition. Hobby Lobby is a chain of more than 500 arts and crafts stores employing approximately 13,000 full time employees across the country; Conestoga Wood manufactures wood products, and employs approximately 950 persons; Autocam is an auto manufacturer, which employs 1,500 employees in fourteen facilities worldwide. Each was organized to serve secular, not religious, purposes, and hire employees and serve customers of many different faiths.

The entire controversy is based on a false premise: that religious business owners will be forced to pay for other people’s birth control. A compromise was worked out that puts the burden on insurers, but these companies claim that this is a distinction without a difference because insurers will pass the “additional costs” of contraceptives onto them anyway through higher premiums. The reality is that, according to the best available evidence, offering free contraceptive coverage saves insurers money due to the very high costs of unintended pregnancies (whether carried to term or aborted).

In other words, there are no costs – it costs more not to offer the coverage. So a very small minority of religious adherents whose faith prohibits them from using contraception are actually trying to force the rest of us to pay for their beliefs with higher insurance premiums (more detail can be found here).

Now, that’s not the argument that the Supreme Court will consider in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. v. Sebelius, and Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius. These cases will decide the more fundamental question of whether secular, for-profit corporations can claim a First Amendment right to practice religion. The courts have granted corporations broad constitutional rights under the theory that corporations are “artificial persons,” including the free speech rights central to the Citizens United ruling, but so far “corporate persons” haven’t been granted the freedom of worship.

The CAC’s brief begins by noting how far the court has bent over toward the business community…

One of the biggest stories of the Supreme Court’s 2012 Term was the success of Big Business. In a host of 5-4 rulings, the conservative Justices, time and again, moved the law to favor the claims of corporations over workers, consumers, mom and pop shops, and other individual Americans asserting their legal rights. The Supreme Court already has a number of business cases on the docket for its October 2013 Term. But even bigger cases are on the doorstep.

The brief notes that the religious owners of the corporations have no obligation to do anything that contradicts their personal beliefs. The law applies to the corporations, which the law views as separate “persons” — corporations are themselves entities, and they can’t actually kneel down and pray. According to the authors, ruling in these companies’ favor would run counter to established precedent…

A critical, threshold question in these cases is whether the guarantee of the free exercise of religion applies to secular, for-profit, business corporations such as these. In the more than two centuries since the ratification of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has never held that secular, for-profit business corporations may assert rights under the Free Exercise Clause.


This Issue Brief demonstrates why courts should reject the claim that business corporations have the right to the free exercise of religion. The Constitution never mentions corporations, and the Supreme Court’s cases recognize a basic, common-sense difference between living, breathing individuals – who think, possess a conscience, and a claim to human dignity – and artificial entities, which are created by the law for a specific purpose, such as to make running a business more efficient and lucrative. Because of these fundamental differences, there are certain contexts – principally those related to human dignity and autonomy – in which corporations do not possess the same rights as individuals.

The Free Exercise Clause is perhaps the quintessential example of a purely personal constitutional guarantee that does not extend to business corporations. Business corporations cannot pray, express devotion to a god, and do not have a religious conscience. Just as important, people do not exercise religion through business corporations. No decision of the Supreme Court, not even Citizens United, has ever invested business corporations with the basic rights of human dignity and conscience. To do so would be a mistake of huge proportions, deeply inconsistent with the text and history of the Constitution and the precedents of the Supreme Court.

Here’s a key point: nobody has to form a corporation in order to do business. They do so because it brings real benefits under the law.

Business owners, who have chosen to run their business through the corporate form to obtain special privileges, such as limited liability, cannot disclaim their corporate status and insist that they are simply individuals exercising their own private religious beliefs…

And, they argue, giving new religious rights for soulless corporations would create a dangerous precedent…

The implications of a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and Autocam would be breathtaking and harmful… [It] would allow business owners to impose their personal religious beliefs on their employees, many of whom have a different set of religious views and want and need access to the full range of contraceptives. It would create a dangerous precedent, which would likely be invoked to justify firing employees (or not hiring people in the first place) for engaging in all manner of activities that do not conform to the religious code of the company’s owners, including using contraceptives, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, or marrying a person of the same sex.

Allowing corporate CEOs to foist their own religious beliefs on their employees would turn the First Amendment on its head, allowing secular, for-profit businesses to enforce a religious orthodoxy in the workplace. Individuals who take a job do not surrender their right to exercise the religion of their choice at their bosses’ door.

You can read the entire brief here.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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  • Anonymous

    It may be petty, but I’ll never darken the door of a Hobby Lobby again. There’s one I used to frequent only 4 blocks from where I live, but I’ll happily drive the extra miles to Michael’s or Jo Ann’s for seasonal and crafting items. No employer should be able to make his workers follow the tenets of his religion as part of their employment.

  • Terri DiA

    These days you hear a lot of people saying they don’t want government controlling their health care, this is no different. An employer should not be able to withhold medical care from women based upon religious beliefs. That is a personal belief that they have no right to impose on someone else. Not to mention the fact that some types of contraceptives are used for more than just preventing pregnancy. they are used to treat other medical issues that women face. No employer should be able to dictate a decision that should be between a woman and her doctor.

  • Arm of Keaau

    Once again, this is an issue about power and taking away personal freedoms of the masses to satisfy the few. I would not be the least bit surprised if the Supreme Court rules in their favor. If they do, then perhaps the powder keg will finally be lit to start the next revolution in this country.

  • Zen

    so how are their day care and maternity leave policies? or will that be another reason to discriminate? so many things need to be addressed.

  • pnclement

    Thanks Tea Party. Your infectious insanity has now reached into insurance coverage and allowing violations of the separation of church & state. The irony here is simply this. No one, not even the Affordable Care Act, is taking Hobby Lobby’s — I’ll never shop there ever again — right to pray.

    But by the same manner, an employer does not have the right to dictate to its employees what they can do on their own time, otherwise they will be in violation of not paying employees for all work or duties performed!

    Ironically, by restricting birth control, more Hobby Lobby employees will have to take time off from work due to being pregnant, which means it and its insurance carrier will pay out more monies than those who do not have babies.

    Almost sounds like Henry Ford’s dabbling in social/human engineering when he sent people into the homes of his workers to see how they were living and if they were living the way he wanted them to be.

  • JonThomas

    What a convoluted mess!

    I bet the court thinks it’s forging ‘new (and important) ground.” Actually it is simply an exercise in pointless futility!

    This entire area of law is to legitimize an illegitimate construct. CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PERSONS!

    Corporations should not even be allowed to exist. This is a fiddling while reality burns.

    While SCOTUS goes off on it’s wild goose chase, and congress is in it’s own partisan world, the President has sold out the entire nation to these insurance over-lords.

    We are all in trouble. A guy just knocked on my door to sell me a security system (as if I had anything worth stealing.) We are in a State that denied medicare expansion. He is working promotions for a billion dollar company and getting paid minimum wage with no insurance benefit. His wife is a waitress at $2.13/hr.

    He needs a gall bladder operation. He said that since he doesn’t have insurance, the hospital panel (he didn’t have exact details on what that was) has to discuss whether they will allow the operation.

    Both he (also his wife) and I both fall through the medicare coverage gap. We make too much (laughable) to qualify for subsidies, and too little to actually afford insurance. Unbelievable! This while the SCOTUS is off on snipe hunts and goose chases.

    We will be charged a “tax” penalty and still have nothing.

    Seriously, people are soon going to snap!

  • JonThomas

    The fault lies in the premise, not in the actions of either party (sorry, in proofreading I should clarify that I don’t mean ‘political’ party.)

    Government, by appeasing the forces of corporate interest groups, and tying healthcare to employers, instead of the General Welfare, is creating an atmosphere of false narratives and false conclusions.

    It should be simple! One person should have no say in the harmless personal affairs of another. Neither should any person or group be responsible for those personal choices of others.

    These arguments are irrational outgrowths of illogical constructs. NO ONE WILL BE RIGHTEOUSLY SERVED BY ANY DECISION!

    The unintended consequences of our new Corporatism are just beginning. Hold on to your seats, it’s going to get bumpy!

  • nurse

    I am a nurse, and I believe nurses and health care workers at Catholic
    hospitals deserve to be treated with the same quality of health insurance as
    any other workers.

    Nurses and health care providers at large Catholic hospitals are employees
    with the same preventative health care needs as any other employees at large

    Nurses and health care workers could be employed at Catholic hospitals
    because there is only one health care facility in the area.

    I do not expect that the religion of my employer should determine my
    religion, my morals, my politics, my ethics or my ability to have preventative
    health care in my insurance policy.

    — That is what birth control is, preventative health care.

  • strider367

    This case is interesting considering a corporation is a person scam. Up until 20 years ago. When a corporation got caught committing a crime. The president of the corporation could and would get jail time. That was the down side of corporations are a person scam. But thanks to their friends in congress. They can’t be sent to jail for their corporate crimes. They can only get fined now. Which we see all the time, recent case in point JP Morgan.

    But using this same scam these corporations are persons. Who are now saying their religious rights can’t be violated. OK, give them this and then lets go back to putting these persons back in jail. When they get caught violating the law. That’s a fair trade off don’t you think?

  • Anonymous

    It would be much better for Hobby Lobby to cancel its insurance and dump all of its employees into the wonderful exchanges. Imagine the nerve of a company attempting to determine what type of coverage it offers its employees. The company probably doesn’t even offer 15 minute coffee breaks. Absolute slave labor.

  • Jim Breed

    If corporations are not persons, do they have 4th amendment protections against search and seizure? In other words, could Federal investigators without a warrant seize the computers at a grocery store to investigate food stamp violations? The 4th refers to people, not corporations. Could any policeman walk into any corporately owned property just to look around? I don’t think you’ve thought this through.

  • JonThomas

    Thank you for your thoughts, but I should point out the sentence in my above comment which you may have scanned over…

    “Corporations should not even be allowed to exist.”

    Corporations are ‘lawful’ entities, but because of their limited liability construct, they should not be a feature of a rational society.

    It is a mistake of incredible proportions for any society to conceive an entity which can not be held directly accountable for it’s own actions.

    I have no problem with privately owned companies whose actions are promoted, guided, and taken responsibility for by a moral agent(s).

    If a person, business, or any other enterprise wants to act in a rational world, then it must do so with full understanding (or at least accountability for) of the consequences..

    If a person where to cause the death of another human being through direct action or negligence, than they can, and should, be held responsible.

    This cannot happen when a corporation is the actor.

    For example…

    Who is responsible for the the (fairly) recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas which killed 35 or so people, and that government regulations only required to have $1,000,000 in liability insurance?

    They were SUPPOSED to conform to Government safety and environmental regulations, but they didn’t conform before they killed those people and destroyed a neighborhood.

    Who is to be jailed, sued, blamed for such an accident?

    If you or I were to be behind such negligence, we would be in jail!

    We would also (rightly I may add) be subject to legal action which would not be protected behind a paper of incorporation and a bulwark of ‘limited liability!’

    So, thank you once again for your input into my thinking process, but whether you agree or disagree, I stand in defense of my original post.

    I contend that even your example is an outgrowth of irrational constructs.

    It is not logical, sensible, or rational to allow the creation and existence of any entity which can not operate as a responsible and accountable moral agent. There will never be any establishment, or assemblage of law which can govern or hold liable a corporation.

    Corporations are bulwarks through which humans shield themselves from the very foundations of life and society. Again, I must restate –

    “It is a mistake of incredible proportions for any society to conceive an entity which can not be held directly accountable for it’s own actions.”

    It is an even bigger mistake for society to continue to allow such entities continued existence. As a species, a society, a race…I don’t really know the proper word yet… we have left the rational world.

    We are a bunch of children playing imaginary games in a universe which has very real consequences. It’s like a child who, while playing, waves a stick and takes out his neighbor’s eye. That child then goes on to blame the stick for being uncontrollable, and his neighbor for being too close.

    This entire field of human endeavor is irrational. And… while I understand that my thoughts and words are not popular, certainly not in the majority, and are probably perceived as ‘fringe,’ I stand behind my words and once again restate that – while you may not agree, I have thought this through, thank you.

    On the other hand, I have not yet had my coffee. So I do hope, regardless of any opinions upon my thought processes, that I made some semblance of sense, and while under probable accusation of insanity, I do hope I strung a few coherent words together in a proper manner. I realize that I am an anonymous nobody, but yes this site has a searchable archive of my thoughts on the subject of corporations.

  • Jim Breed

    If I understand your position, you do not believe that corporations should exist. Further, and I do not intend to put words in your mouth, you believe that all business associations should be partnerships with unlimited liability or sole proprietorships. I will have to think about that. As a libertarian, I am not opposed to considering alternative societal organizations.

  • Anonymous

    So don’t buy anything there. Who’s saying you should? I don’t understand why self-righteous busybodies are against businesses attempting to make a profit. You want contraceptives then go buy them. They simply don’t want to pay for that. If someone thinks they should they can work elsewhere. Where’s Hobby Lobby’s freedom to choose? And what proof do you have that the store sells stuff from child labor sweat shops? Or is it that you just feel like maligning a company whose policies you don’t agree with?

  • JonThomas

    Yeah, in such forums it can be difficult to expound, but I think you got my meaning. To avoid getting side tracked I guess I did truncate my premise in my first comment.

    I resist classifying my personal ideological preferences. I too find that keeping an open mind, with a view towards consideration can be a good practice. There are positive aspects to be found most everywhere.

    While not a “libertarian,” I do find many Libertarian views to be extremely valuable. [i was going to use "profitable"...]

  • Anonymous

    But you have a choice to either work at the hospital or not work there. You also have a choice to move if that is the only employer in the area and it doesn’t fill your needs. Again, what is it about choice that you are so against?

  • Anonymous

    What if I am a Christian Scientist business owner who doesn’t believe in doctors. Am I exempt from paying for health insurance? Nope….pay up! You want to play in the real world?…
    keep your religious beliefs to yourself!

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I order you to give me $2,000 per year in gift certificates to Omaha Steaks. If you object because you are an ethical vegan, get over it and stop trying to impose your personal beliefs on me.

  • Joan Harris

    Also to weaken the Affordable Care Act and to weaken Roe Vs Wade.

  • Ginny

    This would lead women to pay for contraception out of pocket, and that would put a financial strain on a lot of them.

  • Bev Mabry

    No employer should even begin to imagine it/he/she has the right to dictate or interfere in any employee’s health care – in any capacity – period. That is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Employers trade pay and benefits which may include health insurance – for services rendered and that does not give them any right to dictate any health care provided by the insurance. I’m so disgusted with these companies that I may boycott them entirely.

  • Joan Harris

    A Hobby Lobby just opened in my town this month. I emailed them to say I will not shop at their store unless SCOTUS rules in favor of the ACA prescription drug mandate. They sent me information defending their side of the debate. They believe their religious freedom is a family owned right. They also have rights as a corporation. They can’t have it both ways.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing like responding five months later, but I’ll reiterate what I already said. If the employees don’t like working at Hobby Lobby, who pays for their health insurance, but doesn’t have to, they can work elsewhere. No one has a ball and chain around her ankles. In fact, the WH touted how the new law set everyone free. So go pursue a job elsewhere. The busybody left just has to stick its nose in everyone’s business.

  • Anonymous

    I was trying to understand the hypocrisy of Hobby Lobby and many others show. Your attitude is: if you don’t like it – then leave… Well, if you don’t like the new health care law in this country – you can leave and find a country more to your liking. That was simple.

  • Ned Carter

    Why would you “force” someone to be a willing participant in something if it violates their belief system

    So you have no problem getting your arm hacked off if your Muslim Boss called you a thief, right? Or telling you you had to wear his religions clothing even when you are off work? Or perhaps being told by your Jehova’s Witness Boss that your just gonna have to die if you require blood in an emergency?

    Screw your fairy tales.

  • Ned Carter

    They are rich and this is the Roberts Court.
    They can have whatever they want.

  • Anthony Endres

    Once fairy tale excuses are quasi-legally granted and allowed for too big to jail ( pro-life born-again Talibanegelic Chrstians-only I presume?) Corporations and all that religious-fundamental retarded gibberish always trumps human, privacy, and civil rights law, you all will then have the assured guarantee the US is a totalitarian theocratic fascism to exist? Supi! Can’t wait for “religious freedom” law to come.
    Since, as an Atheistic business owner, I’ve always wished I could legally exclude ALL religions of Abrahams from my business!

  • Anonymous

    That would include the majority of small businesses. But then again, work has never been a major concern to leftists.

  • Nunyo Bizness

    Uh, Christi…apparently the Green family has no “religious objection” to soiling their hands with the profits from a 350% markup on crap from China, where the Single Child Policy results in mandatory abortions.

  • Anonymous

    Right. That is the government’s job. Maybe you can also ask them to pick out your clothes and car next time you shop.

  • Christi

    Ned – The Muslim references you speak of is about “force” of ones belief system onto another person. That is exactly what I’m against. Your second example is bogus, because some jobs require uniforms. If the job is a Christian bookstore (for example) then religious clothing maye be justly required. Find another job if it offends you. Last of all, for that someone who is about to die if they don’t have a blood transfusion why would they want their “boss” to be the determining factor if they live or not?! The point is the boss should be left out of the equation.

  • Christi

    what does my statement have to do with the green party? I’m not Pro-Green party and I’m not pro-single child policy if that’s what you are suggesting.

  • Nunyo Bizness

    You are retarded. The Greens are the family that owns Hobby Lobby and you totally missed the point – they’re whining about how they’re opposed to enabling women regarding some birth control, but they have no “religious” problem making money from the Chinese who support abortion.

  • Christi

    I mis-read “family” as “party.” My apologies. Name calling isn’t necessary. The article makes no mention of their “Chinese inventory,” so I have to assume that is true. It makes sense as many big chain corporations that want to compete in the market place will buy the cheapest products. So, is the answer to abandon all our values and adopt the values of a foriegn country who we financially support? I don’t agree personally with people who act like hypocrites, but all the same I support Hobby Lobby’s religious claim if it means non-hypocrites can enjoy the same freedom to NOT financially support something that is clearly against their religion.