At some point in the future, everyone currently screaming and wailing (or celebrating and pontificating) about yesterday’s SCOTUS decision (BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL. v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC.) might gradually come to realize that the REAL effect of that decision was this:
Corporations– which exist so that groups of monied people can pool their resources to form a business entity that is PROTECTED FROM LAWS TO WHICH THEY WOULD OTHERWISE BE SUBJECT IF THEY WERE PROSECUTED INDIVIDUALLY– and which were already, incomprehensibly, granted legal rights and Constitutional protection heretofore reserved only to INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS (by this same Supreme Court) in the notorious 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision— were just further granted the individual citizens’ right to non-interference by Federal law due to matters of religious conviction.
Our voracious plutocratic oligarchy has now endowed an entity– the American corporation– with all the rights and privileges granted by law to American citizens, but with none of the legal culpability of an actual individual citizen when it comes to being prosecuted by the law for monetary misconduct. It is a much more efficient device for skirting the law, funneling wealth into the pockets of its shareholders, and evading the consequences when it goes bust and guilt is to be assigned for loss of funds.
Corporations have been carefully regulated by the Federal government since our country was founded. During the early years of our nation, corporations were limited by law to an existence of only 20-30 years. Even within their limited lifespan, a particular corporation was allowed only to deal in one commodity; it was not allowed to hold stock in other companies; and its total property holdings were strictly limited to what they needed to accomplish their business goals. Expansion and conglomeration were forbidden, as was diversifying corporate interests. There were even laws in place that made ANY political contribution by corporations to ANY candidate for elected office (or any attempt to otherwise influence law-making) a criminal offense.
Originally the privilege of incorporation was granted only to support endeavors that directly benefited the public (like construction of roads or canals). By allowing shareholders to profit, incorporation encouraged the contribution of private capital toward such projects. But corporate charters could be revoked if laws were violated, and corporate owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job. Citizen authority clauses limited capitalization, debts, land holdings, and ill-gotten gains: a company’s accounting books must be surrendered to a legislature upon request. Interlocking directorates were outlawed, and shareholders had the right to remove directors at will. In Europe, corporate charters had long protected directors and stockholders from liability for debts and harms caused by their corporations. But American legislators explicitly rejected this corporate shield. For awhile, anyway.
In 1819 the U.S. Supreme Court tried to strip states of their chartering rights by overruling New Hampshire’s right to revoke a corporate charter; that bold attempt of the SCOTUS to subvert state corporate chartering laws inspired nineteen states to adopt new state constitutional amendments to circumvent the SCOTUS ruling. In 1855 the Supreme Court finally relented when in Dodge v. Woolsey it reaffirmed state’s powers over “artificial bodies.”
But corporations continued to fight against regulation intended to keep them honest, abusing their charters and becoming conglomerates and trusts to convert America’s resources into private fortunes, spawning factory systems and company towns. Political power and wealth was amassed and consolidated by absentee owners, and community-rooted enterprises were pillaged and abandoned. Until, at long last, the 2010 SCOTUS Citizens United ruling finally twisted the very Constitution itself into defending corporate interests by essentially declaring that corporations collectively held the individual right to free speech traditionally guaranteed to American citizens.
Now corporations ALSO apparently have the right to freedom of religion– but NOT the same way a church does, as a collective of free citizens with shared religious beliefs. Now a corporation– even a for-profit one– has its OWN religious caveat, based only on the religious beliefs of its owners (and despite the potentially-different religious beliefs of its employees).
In the long run this recent SCOTUS decision won’t be scored as a victory for freedom of religion so much as a triumph of the corporate ability to rule people by skirting the law.