Religious liberty is for everyone â€” in every aspect of their lives. Unfortunately, many on the left and defenders of the Affordable Care Act want to limit religious liberty to only the private aspects of our lives.
Thatâ€™s not the vision of the Founders, nor a valid interpretation of the First Amendmentâ€™s Free Expression clause. Our public lives, including how we conduct our business affairs, must enjoy this freedom also.
Whatâ€™s brought this up again is the U.S. Supreme Courtâ€™s agreement to hear a case brought by Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned company that doesnâ€™t feel it should have to pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing â€śmorning afterâ€ť pills.
The left is responding with a tired refrain that only people have rights â€” not corporations.
â€śTo be sure, the devout individual business owners behind the corporations in these challenges have their own personal rights to exercise their religion, but those rights have nothing to do with Obamacareâ€™s contraception coverage requirement,â€ť writes constitutional attorney Elizabeth Wydra for cnn.com. â€śWhy? Because federal law does not require the individuals who own the company to personally provide health care coverage or to satisfy any other legal obligation of the corporation. The law places requirements only on the corporate entity. To conflate the corporations in these cases with their owners violates basic principles of corporate law.â€ť
Does this sound familiar? Itâ€™s the leftâ€™s argument against the Citizens United decision, which found that everyone has a right to participate in the political process (via donations to preferred candidates). And â€śeveryoneâ€ť includes employees of corporations.
Thatâ€™s because corporations are simply organizations made up of people. Wydra is wrong that the â€ślaw doesnâ€™t require the individuals who own the company to personally provide heath care coverageâ€ť â€” of course it does. Whether they are acting as sole proprietors or as corporate officers, theyâ€™re still acting as persons. They shouldnâ€™t be forced to give up rights simply because theyâ€™re wearing business casual rather than Sunday best.
The Cato Instituteâ€™s Ilya Shapiro explains that Obamacare exempts some but not all religious organizations.
â€śThe owners of Hobby Lobby donate plenty to charity out of the profits they make, possibly having greater impact than many of the nonprofits that are (or will be) exempt,â€ť he wrote recently. â€śEven if they didnâ€™t, however, this country was founded on ideals of religious liberty that went on to be enshrined in the First Amendment, so why would we just ignore them?â€ť
Wydra also is mistaken in her reading of judicial and legislative history. First Amendment freedoms have always been interpreted and applied widely, rather than narrowly.
â€śAmericans understand that the essence of religious freedom is that government canâ€™t force people to do things that violate their religious beliefs,â€ť he wrote. â€śIf the HHS rule is repealed, women will still be perfectly free to obtain contraceptives, abortions and whatever else isnâ€™t against the law. They just wonâ€™t be able to force others to pay for them.â€ť
Are corporations people? No. But the people who work within them donâ€™t give up their rights at the office door.