Corporations continued their march toward corporate personhood today with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby. “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in his defense of the five justices who decided that both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties could refuse women any insurance with free contraception.
Alito also wrote, “HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.” Owners of Hobby Lobby believe that such birth control as Plan B and intrauterine devices result in abortions—a flat-out lie. For the first time in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court permits companies to declare a religious belief in order to break the law, and the belief isn’t even based on scientific fact.
The ruling was supposedly written only for “closely held corporations,” non-personal service corporations with more than 50 percent of its stock owned by five or fewer people. Up to 90 percent all businesses and 52 percent of the workforce may fit into this category. Although 85 percent of large employers provided contraception coverage before the Affordable Care Act mandated it, so did Hobby Lobby—before it changed its mind.
The healthcare mandate covers only businesses with more than 50 employees (Hobby Lobby has 16,000), but smaller businesses may decide to sue because they don’t want to provide services or goods for anyone they don’t like. Past lawsuits have included a restaurateur who refused to integrate his business because of his firmly held religious beliefs and a private school that denied married health insurance because the bible states husbands should provide for wives.
In a dissenting opinion filed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer, Ginsberg warned about this possibility:
“In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Ginsberg added that the government has a “compelling interest” in providing no-cost birth control to women:
“Those interests are concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence. To recapitulate, the mandated contraception coverage enables women to avoid the health problems unintended pregnancies may visit on them and their children.”
Hobby Lobby’s narrow objection to contraception for employees, although claiming to be religious, is also connected to the almighty dollar. In addition to investing in drug companies that make the medication that literally causes abortion, Hobby Lobby (aka the Green family) purchases goods manufactured in China, a country in which the government pays for its annual 25 million or more abortions.
A common comment from naysayers to free contraception is that women can easily afford it. Beyond prescription costs of $30-$40 per month, medical costs include a pelvic exam and STD tests at $35 to $200. For the justices who impose this on women, that cost sounds minimal; for women needing their minimum wage salaries of under $1,500 per month for food and shelter, this is a major expenditure. As an example of how ignorant men are about oral contraceptives, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation that women can simply “walk into a 7-Eleven or any shop on any street in America” and access birth control.
The Affordable Care Act permits the government to cover costs of contraceptives if religious groups deny this benefit. The situation requires that the companies complete a form, one which a Catholic group has already refused to do because it would still provide contraceptives for women. The Supreme Court suggested that the government could just pay for contraceptives if it wants that mandate. This might require Congressional approval—which will almost certainly not happen.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has had its ups and downs in popularity, but disapproval is rapidly sinking. Rasmussen finds only 26 percent of the people think that SCOTUS is doing an excellent or good job.
Only two decades ago, SCOTUS had an all-time high in approval rate of 80 percent. Since then, the court appointed George W. Bush as president by stopping the Florida votes that later showed Al Gore had won the state—and the vote for president. Less than ten years later, SCOTUS gave unlimited campaign spending to corporations in Citizens United and then added to corporations’ rights this past year. Last summer, SCOTUS removed voting rights from many minorities and low-income people.
The Supreme Court has used freedom of speech to make several rulings in favor of corporations. Last week, the court gave anti-choice protesters the rights to harass women after Eleanor McCullen convinced the court that all the violent anti-choice people will follow her gentle lead if the 35-foot buffer zone is removed around women’s clinics.
Other major faux freedom of speech decisions from SCOTUS:
- Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed in Citizens United (2010) that donations to PACs and super PACs that are nominally “independent” from candidates “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
- Roberts followed up this spring in McCutcheon by claiming that only quid pro quo corruption—aka bribery—threatens the integrity of the political system enough to justify congressional intervention.
- Kennedy stated in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011) that giving prescription data to drug companies is “a necessary cost of freedom.” These companies want the information to better target doctors for marketing.
Christians might want to worry that today’s Hobby Lobby ruling, which does not specifically cite “Christian religion,” opens the door to Sharia law. For example, an Islamic-led private company could require all employers, no matter what their religious faith is, to observe the Ramadan fast at work. An atheist-owned company might be able fire employees for attending a place of faith. Or a company might be exempt from paying taxes contributing to capital punishment and the military because of a belief in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”
By granting civil rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion to corporations, the Supreme Court also opened the door to removing corporate protections from corporations. Gone is the separation between a corporation and its owners: a corporation is now the shareholders’ alter ego. If corporations have the rights of the owners, then the owners can be sued for their corporations’ misdeeds.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Hobby Lobby by explaining courts have “long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself.” Deciding that “a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise” would “eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.” SCOTUS has done that.
Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although a little more than one-third of respondents to a survey believe that employers should be able to limit healthcare coverage, 53 percent disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling. GOP politicians have blithely touted “freedom of religion” for corporations, but this is the party that lost votes in the last election because it alienated women.
Another backlash to the Court’s ruling is its move toward single-payer health insurance as SCOTUS suggests that the government pay for women’s contraceptives. If the government has to pay for contraceptives, it may provide more healthcare services on a single-payer basis.
Conservatives fight so bitterly against abortions that they have closed down all but four women’s clinics in the huge state of Texas and eliminated most of those in nearby states. Yet they don’t want women to have contraception. The only answer to this conundrum may be that Republicans need to totally control women’s bodies.
As for the Supreme Court, a definition of constitutional free speech in their rulings is any position with which they agree.