Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Supreme Church of the Corporate States of America

Monday's decision saw the so-called Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood to determine that corporations have religious rights.  In the most basal of responses, we would most likely see this as a problem of religious encroachment or the anti-science , but in practice, I'd put this down as an issue of corporate power and the corporatist state of the serving Supreme Court justices.  The thing is not just that corporations run things in accordance with their religious beliefs -- that happens quite often.  Hobby Lobby themselves does give a lot of money to religious charities.  Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays and religious holidays as well as printing Bible references on their containers.  There's nothing really problematic about that per se.  These sorts of actions, though, really operate on a scale of funds, when you get right down to it (i.e. what they do with their money).  What this decision really allows is for the religious beliefs of the owners of corporations to determine factors on the lives of their employees.  Now, you're not really dealing with the money alone, but with the lives of employees.

Why I say this is really a matter of corporate power is the fact that it rather blatantly ignores the religious beliefs of the employee and favors the rights of the employers.  In the case of Hobby Lobby, they qualify as what is known as a "tightly held" corporation, where a small group within the family owns at least 50% of the stock, which makes them the sole controlling interest.  In theory, this implies that company policy is theirs to decide and no one can override them, even if all other shareholders are against it.  But there are things corporations generally can't do regardless of how much they might like to.  Generally speaking, when we are dealing with issues of basic rights, the rights of one individual end where another individual's rights begin.  This is basically the inevitable flow of equal protection under the law.  One person's freedom of religion is all well and good, but they can't take their religion to the point of its destruction of another person's free exercise of their beliefs.  Herein lies the core problem with the idea of giving a corporation the privilege of religious exercise -- a corporation doesn't just consist of a single religious belief.  You will have employees who are of different beliefs and different views.  The Supreme Court's decision is basically saying that the rights of those who own the company are more important than the rights of the employees...  although in a sense, this is practically equivalent to saying that only the rights of the corporations can ever matter.