Monday, June 30, 2014

Hobby Lobby decision makes my brain hurt.

I’ve just been reading over the Hobby Lobby ruling by the supreme court today and the majority ruling is just baffling to me. Let’s look at two parts of the ruling.


Nothing in RFRA suggests a congressional intent to depart from the Dictionary Act definition of “person,” which “include[s] corporations, . . . as well as individuals.” 1 U. S. C. §1. The Court has entertained RFRA and free-exercise claims brought by nonprofit corporations.

Basically the are saying that for the purpose of legal ruling corporations are treated as persons. Now, the notion that corporations are to be treated as persons is certain respects goes back to the 19th century, this initially only extended to rights regarding contract enforcement and obligation. However throughout the years various rulings by the supreme court have extended this concept of personhood being vested in a corporation to granting more rights normally reserved for persons in normal sense. The most recent and well known example of this trend was the Citizens United ruling published back in 2010.

One of the features of this ruling is essentially to continue this trend, by now arguing that corporations have the right of free exercise of religion. With this there are almost no rights given to persons which are not also given to corporations. This is a mistake, corporations are for profit enterprises, there is no reason to grant them any rights beyond those needed to engage in free market trade, I.E. laws relating to contract enforcement. The free exercise clause is there to guarantee individuals the right to practice their religious beliefs, but a corporation cannot HAVE religious beliefs and to make the religious beliefs of the corporations owners or managers coequal with the “beliefs” of the corporation seems at odds with the very purpose of corporations, I.E. limited liability. That is to say I find it odd that people who would fight to defend the notion that they are not individually responsible in an economic sense for the corporations choices, now want to claim they feel a personal moral responsibility for the corporation's choices.  This is particularly galling since there is evidence that Hobby Lobby, in particular, has investments in companies that make some of the contraceptives they claim to oppose.

There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts “out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,” Lee, 455 U. S., at 263, n. 2 (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment), or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held. Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

Notice that they don’t that Hobby Lobby’s claim merits protection under the RFRA because the claim is sincere, they claim that the court cannot even be asked to determine if religious claims are sincere. This is simply wrong in my opinion, and disastrously wrong at that. Ginsburg’s dissent to the majorities ruling puts it best.

"Reading the Act expansively, as the court does, raises a host of "Me, too" questions. Can an employer in business for profit opt out of coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations, antidepressants, or medications derived from pigs, based on the employer's sincerely held religious beliefs opposing those medical practices.

The point is that the courts MUST, as best they can, attempt to determine which claims are sincere and which are not, at the very least. To assume that all religious claims are sincere, and therefore must be respected under the law, would lead to the court being required to allow anyone to do virtually anything by simply claiming a religious exemption. Don’t want to pay taxes? My religion says I’m not allowed to pay taxes. What you don’t think my beliefs are sincere? You think I’m more interested in a way of getting out of my moral obligations to government and society? How dare you question the sincerity of my beliefs! Now, do I think Scalia and the other conservatives on the court would actually rule this way? Absolutely not, which is why this ruling is a complete joke. Even they don’t accept the logic they used to justify this ruling.

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