Hobby Lobby Decision Puts Government in the Religion Business

The Supreme Court decision allowing a corporation to exempt itself from the law—in this case the Affordable Care Act—does two very bad things at once:

* It privileges religious beliefs over other deeply-held beliefs
* It puts government in the business of deciding what are legitimate religions and religious beliefs.

We can also bemoan the content of this case—contraceptive access, healthcare affordability—but the religious issues actually create larger, longer-range problems for America.

The First Amendment, of course, guarantees that “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. But even before that, it says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. That is, the American government is not allowed to say “you can be a Christian but not a Muslim.” Or “you can show devotion to Allah but not to Jehovah.”

This new “right” was a radical innovation back in the eighteenth century, when governments routinely insisted that people believe and practice the same religion as the King—and executed or exiled people who disobeyed.

But the Hobby Lobby decision now puts government in the position of deciding what’s a “true” religion, and what are “reasonable” religious beliefs. If Hobby Lobby, for example, refused to hire African-American people because the Bible says they are Satan’s people, or are destined to be slaves (both can be inferred from the text), the Court would not have allowed this. That is, the government’s laws would be applied based on the CONTENT of the religious belief.

Similarly, consider the United Church of Bacon, a duly registered religious corporation in the state of Nevada, with a charter, officiants, members, etc.. If this Church petitioned the government to be exempt from slaughterhouse or meat inspection regulations, would the Court support their right to religious freedom? I suspect not. That is, the government would be deciding which religions are “legitimate” and which are not. And what about those who hear Napolean’s holy voice? What differentiates a “religion” from deeply beliefs, anyway?

This profound question should be decided in people’s hearts, not in government hallways.

While we’re on the subject of religious freedom, look again at the First Amendment. It grants these rights to PEOPLE. Corporations don’t and can’t have beliefs—they are a legal abstraction that exist only on paper. Referring to Hobby Lobby’s “beliefs” makes as much sense as referring to a table’s “beliefs. And the owners of Hobby Lobby? They received enormous tax and legal advantages when they created a corporation. Legally, they distanced themselves from the company—if they are personally sued (say for libel or personal negligence), the multi-million dollar corporation is protected. If the Corporation is sued, they have great personal protection.

That legal distance they created must work both ways. The benefits they gain already require relinquishing some personal rights—for example, the government is allowed a whole new level of financial scrutiny. Similarly, the corporation doesn’t inherit its owners’ right to religious belief. The owners can express their religious beliefs any (legal) way they like. But the corporation, as a fictitious entity enjoying many privileges, doesn’t have the rights of “belief” that its owners do.

So Hobby Lobby should obey all laws, including laws that offend its owners. Exempting the corporation from obeying certain laws because its owners wish to exercise their personal rights will most certainly invite more corporations to break more laws under the guise of religious liberty.

And so this Court decision gives even more power to people with deeply-held irrational beliefs—SOME people, with SOME beliefs.

And yet they have the nerve to say that religion is under attack in America. Talk about an irrational belief.

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