Jerome’s point questions whether corporations have the same rights and privileges as human people. Adam focuses on the religious nature of the Court’s decision and summarily dismisses the question of whether a corporation has the rights of a person with a single sentence: “Of course corporations have free speech and religious rights, because a corporation is a human being or many human beings.” Notice, that even Adam could not end his sentence without adding the “or” statement. That’s because just as rhubarb pie is not a rhubarb plant, a corporation is not a human being.
That is also why the phrase after the “or” in Adam’s sentence is so very important. That phrase implies that collective entities – corporations in this case – have the same rights as single individuals under our constitution.
Do the rights and privileges of individual members of a corporation extend upward to the organization itself? If so, do obligations of individual members extend upward to the organization itself as well? Reciprocally, one must ask: Do the rights and obligations of the organization settle downward upon the shoulders of each individual person in the organization?
In short, when it comes to organizations and the people who make them up, is this a two-way street?
Jerome, for instance, questions whether corporations or other organizations can in effect have well-formed religious consciences. To answer “yes” to this questions presupposes that the people impart their beliefs upon the organizations. Hmmm…Which people? The owners? The managers? All employees? Society at large?
We can see examples of each of these situations in various religious and secular organizations.
But another question that must be asked is how do such beliefs manifest themselves within a corporate entity? What leverage does the organization have? Can it control actions within the marketplace? Among the owners? The management? All employees? Can the corporate entity attempt to control the actions of society at large?
Again, we can see examples of each of these situations in religious and secular organizations today. With respect to religion, our society and legal system even recognizes the difficulty of answering such questions. Specific language in the law already exists that exempts religious organizations from some elements of employee law that violate their religious beliefs.
But should these religious exemptions be extended to all corporate entities? Can the expectation of a corporation that its middle and upper management members drive certain models of cars be extended to where or how they pray? When a restaurant refuses to sell certain dishes because of religious beliefs, does that marketplace power extend onto the dinner tables of its employees? Can religious litmus tests be added to the personnel policies of all corporate entities in this country?
What obligations can be extended to and what limits can be imposed upon organizations that choose to play in the public sandbox?
These are questions that cannot be easily answered. The “personhood” of both corporations and unions has been addressed by two recent Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United and Hobby Lobby). There will be more such questions and more decisions.
How we answer these questions now and in the future will determine how we interpret freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bare arms – in fact all the freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights. It is this bigger picture that should concern us.
So, when it comes to Hobby Lobby, forget about contraception coverage. Forget about abortion coverage. Consider the bigger picture. That is where the wisdom – or lack of wisdom – of the Supreme Court’s decision resides.