Joanne Knight

June 30, 2014

Sincere Belief not to Obey the Law: Burwell v Hobby Lobby

One of the many problems with the Hobby Lobby decision is that corporations can now circumvent the law by asserting a “sincere religious belief.” “It [RFRA] requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” It seems that all owners have to do is assert a “sincere religious belief” to be protected.
“[Dept of Health and Human Services] HHS contends that Congress could not have wanted [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] RFRA to apply to for-profit corporations because of the difficulty of ascertaining the “beliefs” of large, publicly traded corporations, but HHS has not pointed to any example of a publicly traded corporation asserting RFRA rights, and numerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring.” How can a corporation have religious beliefs if no one can point to them? But the problem is not only one of evidence. The problem is the essential nature of a corporation which is an abstract legal entity with no beliefs, in spite of what SCOTUS says.
This gives corporations greater rights to exercise beliefs than humans who do not subscribe to a religion, but have a sincere belief in their right to contraception. It is assumed that the right to contraception is a value free belief.
Maybe corporations can now assert they have a religious belief not to follow environmental laws because they don’t believe in climate change, or employ gay people, Muslims, Jews, black people or that employees must join scientology or any other crazy-assed notion. This gives employers the right to impose their religious beliefs upon their employees. What about the religious freedom of employees? So the rights of owners are now better rights than the rights of employees. If an employee has a religious belief that conflicts with an employers, the employers beliefs will prevail.
What about if a corporation asserts a sincere belief that humans could not be polluting the environment because God would not allow it or even that pollution does not cause harm? They would be excused from following environmental laws. What about if a business owner has a sincere belief that he is God’s chosen vessel and has a right to impregnate his female staff?
This fundamentally changes the definition of a corporation. Surely owners are no longer separate from the business. The beliefs of the owners are conflated with the beliefs of the business, then the owners and the business must be the same thing. Owners are no longer protected from liability. The shareholders and boards of Wall St Banks should now be liable for the misconduct of the company. They should all be individually prosecuted when the bank is found guilty of fraud or other misconduct.

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