Corporations are People, Too! Hobby Lobby, Fed Ex, President Obama & You

Corporations are now acquiring the rights of people. 

In 1844, the Supreme Court first treated corporations as human when, in Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston R. Co. v. Lesson 43 U.S. 497 (1844), the Court determined that corporations were “Citizens” of the state in which they were incorporated. In the late 1800’s these rights were expanded protecting corporations from ithe unlawful seizure of corporate property.   In 1906, in Hale v. Henkel, like people, corporations needed to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.  More recently, in United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co. (1977), the Supreme Court further expanded the rights of corporations by expanding the double jeopardy rule to include both humans and corporations. 

In Citizens United v. FEC. (2010) the Supreme Court recognized that corporations enjoy the right to free speech.  The Court held that, since corporations and people enjoy the same legal rights, the government can’t limit a corporation’s independent political donations. The Citizens United ruling was the greatest expansion of corporate personhood to date. 

After giving Corporations the right to free speech, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Court held that privately held corporations have religious rights. The government argued that corporations do not “engage” in the exercise of religion.  Corporations don’t pray; they don’t go to church; they don’t practice a religion.  The Supreme Court disagreed.  Corporations can now assert the religious rights, the rights of their owners.

What does it mean if corporations are people?  It means that they have all the legal rights of citizens.  If they have absolute right to free speech, can we regulate advertising?  Can we regulate corporate behaviors?  Can we impose safety standards on them, or like people, can we only react to bad behavior after the fact?

In the alternative, if a corporation commits a crime, are the people who run it exempt from prosecution?  On July 17th, 2014,Federal Express was indicted by a federal grand jury for knowingly trafficking drugs for illegal online pharmacies. It is interesting to note that while the “corporation” knew it was trafficking in illegal drugs, not one of the corporate officers was charged with this crime, even though they too had knowledge of these acts.  The corporation did it, not the people who ran it.  To put this in perspective, if you were charged and convicted of this crime, a first offense of distributing synthetic drugs would carry a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.  While everyday citizens would be incarcerated for acting in an identical way to Federal Express, businesses, corporations and the people who own and manage them grow increasingly bulletproof.

Ultimately, the more corporations obtain the rights of citizens, the less ability we have to impose regulations upon them that we do not impose upon all our citizens. 

Hobby Lobby – Bringing Religion into the Workplace is Now OK

If you had the chance to examine the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case and President Obama’s response to it, you would realize that the religion of your company’s owner can now influence your working environment. 

The Supreme Court interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a more religious friendly way, significantly expanding the influence of religion in the workplace.  This decision allows owners of small businesses to imbue their wholly owned corporate entities with their religious beliefs.  Further, their right to hold these beliefs now trumps their obligation to comply with certain laws.  This imakes the Hobby Lobby case more than a case about birth control, or even about women.  The Hobby Lobby case has become a case about how religious beliefs could be enforced in every workplace scenario.

Over the last fifty years, our country has developed a system of laws for the sole purpose of protecting the little guy.   We enacted civil rights laws, sex discrimination laws, laws guaranteeing certain employee benefits as well as certain protections from being fired.  What happens now if the religious beliefs of the business owners you work for conflict with the laws that ensure theses protections?  If the owners of a business are Christian Scientists, does that mean that they do not have to pay for health insurance for their employees?  Is that same Christian Scientist owner of that small businesses able to not provide defibrillators (all businesses over 100 employees are required to have defibrillators)?  Can they prevent the use of a defibrillator or other lifesaving method when someone has a heart attack? If you are a Muslim or an Orthodox Jew, can you require your female employees to cover in order to comply with your religious beliefs?  Can Muslim business owners refuse to hire women because they do not believe men and women should be working together?  Could they go as far as refusing to hire African Americans, Hispanics or Jews if they refuse to adopt the Muslim religion?  You might have thought the answer to these questions was a resounding no; but is it?

The only limitation on this decision is that it limits ability to exercise their religious freedom to owners of small closely held private corporations.  But remember, Hobby Lobby does $3.1 billion in annual sales.