“Expansive notion of corporate personhood”: Hobby Lobby decision on corporations asserting religious rights

The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths. – Justice Ginsburg, dissenting.

June 30- The Supreme Court decided 5-4 that a for-profit corporation with a limited number of shareholders (but 13,000 employees) may assert a right of religion under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to deny their employees coverage of health insurance that includes birth control. As usual, SCOTUSblog has links to the opinions and dissents (and there are several).

The ruling came in two companion cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties, Inc. v. Burwell.  Free Speech For People’s legal team, led by Ron Fein, filed a brief in the Conestoga case, and issued a statement following the decision:

The Supreme Court wisely refused to entertain the corporations’ claim that they have a constitutional right to ignore laws based on “corporate religion.” Unfortunately, the Court misinterpreted the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as providing a massive corporate exemption to federal laws based on the religious beliefs of investors. While the Court attempted to limit its decision to health insurance coverage for contraception, and to assure the public that the decision would not extend to publicly-traded corporations, the decision opens the door to corporate claims for exemptions from federal civil rights, environmental, safety, and consumer protection laws. As Justice Ginsburg noted in a powerful dissent, the decision means that corporations can potentially “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Since this ruling is based on a law that Congress passed, Congress could fix the problem legislatively. We urge Congress to close this loophole. Corporations aren’t people, but real people will suffer until this is fixed.

About Jeff Clements

Jeff serves as President of American Promise. He has practiced law for three decades in public service and private practice, and is the author of Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations. He is also the founder of Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides sustainable financing to businesses in the local agriculture economy. Previously, Jeff has been a partner in a major Boston law firm and served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the public law enforcement bureau in the Attorney General’s Office in Massachusetts. Jeff has helped to start and been a board member of many non-profit organizations and businesses. Today, in addition to the board of American Promise, he serves on the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord, Massachusetts. Twitter: @ClementsJeff
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