Are we all corporations now?

A Hobby Lobby store in Ohio in 2008. Photo: DangApricot, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

A Hobby Lobby store in Ohio in 2008. Photo: DangApricot, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

One of the most peculiar and fractured conversations underway in America involves the role that corporations play in our lives. This week, the US Supreme Court allowed that in some cases, certain types of large companies may in fact hold religious values. That is to say, they are allowed to conduct their affairs and even ignore laws that other companies are subject to, if their managers believe collectively certain things about God or the supernatural.

This development builds on recent court rulings that allow corporations to exercise a kind of “free speech” in our politics, a civic involvement that generally translates into the spending of large amounts of cash. During the last presidential campaign, Republican Mitt Romney, himself an experienced corporate executive, declared famously that “Corporations are people, my friend.”

When a member of the crowd protested, Romney was insistent: “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”

This growing sense of a meaningful corporate “identity” sharing space in our democracy with living, breathing humans comes at a time when corporations are also increasingly powerful.

Top executives that run these firms control a huge and growing percentage of total American wealth. The famous 1% of Americans now control roughly a fifth of all wealth in our society. That’s almost twice the wealth held by the “bottom” fifty percent of our people. As cash competes with activism in our political process, it’s clear who will be able to speak the loudest.

It’s also a fact that more and more of us draw our livelihoods from these “mega-meta-individuals.” Roughly seven million Americans work for just ten companies, including Wal-Mart, GE and McDonald’s.

Factor in their spouses and children and that’s a huge slice of our population dependent financially on a relatively small group of firms. In the Gilded Age, those workers might have identified with a Rockefeller or a DuPont or a Vanderbilt, an actual person. But now the buck usually stops not at an individual, but at a corporate gestalt identity.

Big companies are owned and run by collective and relatively anonymous boards and committees, with decision making and accountability diffused over an army of attorneys and executives and middle managers. A vast pool of shareholders. A sprawling corporate bureaucracy.

Which leads us to the dilemma that we face. While we know a great deal about the moral and ethical behavior of individuals — and have a system of laws designed over decades and centuries to govern that behavior — we’re still struggling to understand how these new corporate personalities will function in our lives. And there’s strong evidence that we have reason to be nervous.

To be sure, enlightened self-interest and a reasonable profit motive often inspire healthy corporate behavior that many Americans find praise-worthy. Disney and other companies are on the forefront of including same-sex families, in part because they see gays and lesbians as good customers. Our ATM machines and our cable TV channels offer services and programs in a convenient variety of languages, even as our political culture dithers and feuds over immigration. Many corporations give vast amounts of money to charity and good causes.

But there are also endless examples of corporations behaving in ways that critics have described as essentially sociophathic.

Responsibility and moral blame are so diffuse, and the risk of individual penalties so slight, that companies wind up making collective decisions that are, bluntly, reprehensible. We know beyond any doubt that Big Tobacco continued to poison American consumers without informing them of the risk long after executives understood that their product was a deadly killer. It took Ralph Nader to push American car companies to build automobiles that weren’t “unsafe at any speed.”

Before the economic crash of 2008, Wall Street firms began bundling essentially worthless real estate into trade-able commodities, which could then be marketed to hoodwinked investors. If an individual set up that kind of scheme, he or she would go to prison for deliberate fraud. If one individual trashed the global economy, they would be a pariah. But in the vast majority of cases, the executives working within the gestalt identity of those big trading firms made huge profits and walked away unscathed. Most of the companies, meanwhile, paid minor, wrist-slap fines.

It’s also a reality — I know this from personal experience as a journalist — that corporations regularly substitute “public relations” and “crisis management” for actual moral accountability. When the Gulf of Mexico is clotted with crude oil, when cars burst into flames or when baby cribs turn out to be deadly choking devices, the collective “person” that is a corporation often has no clear motivation to search its soul and improve its behavior.

On the contrary, there is a powerful collective incentive to minimize responsibility and shift blame elsewhere. A sense of shame and culpability are necessary equipment in the moral life of any adult individual, but for the corporation those things are risk-factors threatening the “brand” and the potential for growth and profit. That’s why whistle-blowers are so often punished and marginalized. That’s why executives involved in horribly immoral decisions are so often given bonuses and promoted.

So we have stumbled into a situation where companies have a growing number of rights, without an equal expansion of responsibility.

Consider Hobby Lobby. The corporation is, according to the US Supreme Court, free to express its religious freedoms when it comes to the narrow question of providing contraceptives as part of its health insurance package. But will the company also be expected to treat its workers with the broad range of Christian values long shared by Protestant and Catholic congregations?

This is a firm that has a strong record as a good employer, with decent wages and benefits. But will workers be considered part of the “Hobby Lobby Christian community” during an economic downturn, for example, and allowed to keep their jobs? Will they be the beneficiaries of family values in terms of child care, maternity leave and other benefits? Will the firm act in the full range of Christian love and charity that inform that faith’s teachings over the long term?

The truth is that most companies won’t take those steps. The profit motive will cause them to continue seeking as much “individual” power and freedom as possible, influencing our politics and avoiding regulation, while incurring the least burdensome range of legal and moral obligations. We see this expressed vividly in the number of “corporate American people” who in fact have no material loyalty to America. They regularly ship their jobs and their technology overseas without discernible regard for values such as patriotism or home-town pride.

While traveling in Europe recently, I was naively startled to find that Coca-Cola broadcasts nearly the same flag-waving commercials in Portugal that it airs here in the U.S. Only there, the flag being waved is the Portuguese flag and the “We’re Number One!” jingoism is referring to Portugal, not the United States. That’s great company policy. Firms want their products to be accepted as familiar and even “home-grown” in as many places as possible.

But in a real individual we would never accept such disingenuous behavior or such clearly divided loyalties. Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, recently felt compelled to abandon his dual Canadian citizenship. It was a demonstration of his undivided American-ness. But those same corporations that are gaining more and more rights as “Americans” can carry as many passports as they like. Wal-Mart is often branded as the quintessential American-rooted firm, but as of 2010 it operated in 27 countries under some 55 different names.

So what do we do about entities that want to be treated as “individuals” but don’t want to face the same civil and criminal laws and obligations that the rest of us face? What do we do about big companies that lay claim to civil rights and free speech that the rest of us enjoy, without accepting the full duties and obligations of citizenship? What do we do about firms that want to be selectively Christian (or Muslim or Hindu or Jewish) when it allows them a “religious freedom,” but have no interest in taking on the broader moral obligations of those faiths?

I suspect first of all that there will be refreshed debate over whether any of this makes sense. The idea that corporations “are people” remains, after all, widely controversial. Even many libertarians, who prefer that companies be allowed to operate with little regulatory oversight from the government, are leery of the concept that firms are, in some meaningful sense, citizens. There is no evidence that the founding fathers contemplated anything like this when writing the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

This conversation is already underway. In our own 21st district congressional race, the role of corporate money flooding the airwaves with campaign ads has already emerged as a major part of the discourse. Even some Republicans and fairly conservative newspaper editorial pages are voicing qualms or openly crying foul about Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super-PAC, which pipelined hundreds of thousands of anonymous corporate dollars into the North Country.

To that end, my guess is that people will, at the very least, question more and more aggressively whether corporations that wish to be viewed as equal players in our society should be allowed to do so secretly. Under current law, the “free speech” granted to these firms often comes too often under the cover of a mask. In our democracy, we hear the megaphone but we don’t know who is actually behind the words. Is it a living, breathing individual, a firm based here in the US, or perhaps even a corporation based largely overseas and operated by foreign executives?

Right now, those lines are blurred and often invisible. In a nation of ballot boxes and government that purports to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” that’s a dangerous thing.

 

47 Comments on “Are we all corporations now?”

  1. Mervel says:

    I do think this is a very interesting topic.

    In Hobby Lobby’s case it is a little different, they are not traded in the stock market and are owned by one guy and his family. I do think that is probably a distinction; when you have corporations owned by millions of individual people and hedge funds and pensions and 401k’s etc, who is really in control?

    Our economics literature would say that indeed those millions of shareholders are the owners and they hire individuals to run the companies through their selection of a Board and the Board sets compensation tied to the performance of the company relative to how that company increases the owners value. But in reality this is flawed. They are run by Boards who often simply give each other favors, the dispersion of ownership simply means a dispersion of responsibility; that is why you can see the most spectacular incompetents and failures getting huge pay and benefits and just moving from one corporation to the next. There is this strange idea that big business in the US is somehow efficient and we just need to get more business leaders in government, this is far from the truth as anyone who has worked for a large corporation can tell you.

    I think we need to start looking at weakening the veil that protects owners and the board from liability and responsibility for the actions of the corporations they own and represent. I am sorry if you own a companies stock; and that company kills people as happened in India or destroys the environment; you should be personally held liable at some level.

    As far as the health care mandate I feel different about that issue as I do think the government is over reaching in that case. Institutions and companies, for profit or not for profit should not be told what type of insurance they have to offer as a benefit based on the lobbying efforts of interests groups.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    As to the question – Are we all corporations now? – I would say no. Not until we as individuals can deduct all of our expenses as business expenses. And this is the problem the geniuses over at the Supreme Court have created by providing special rights for business and then adding all the “human rights” in addition. In other words, the courts have bestowed upon business the status of “Super Humans” with super rights.
    I have mixed feelings about the Hobby Lobby thing because I have very mixed feelings about including many items as health care items. I don’t view birth control as a health issue. Getting pregnant is not an illness. I don’t believe birth control should be provided by any health insurance plan.
    We could lower the cost of health insurance if health insurance were confined to paying for the treatment and prevention of illness, and dealing with accidents and other injuries.
    This would eliminate paying for many electives, such as cosmetic surgery not needed because of illness or accidents.

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  3. Jim Bullard says:

    An individual can set up a corporation. It’s called an LLC or Limited Liability Corporation. Like all other corporations its purpose is to separate the finances of the business from the finances of the individual and thus shield the individual’s assets from liability in the event that the business suffers loss or liability that exceeds its assets. When the laws creating corporations were created I don’t believe that separate ‘ ‘personhood’ for any purpose beyond pecuniary was envisioned, certainly not religious purposes.

    As I see it the real flaw in the Supreme Court majority’s reasoning is that it associates the religious beliefs of the owner(s) with a legally separate entity. The owner is a deeply religious person ergo the business he owns is deeply religious. But the business is a non-human creation. It is tantamount to saying (for example) that because a person is a Buddhist his/her house and car are Buddhist. No non-living, non-human thing or enterprise is essentially religious. Separating financial responsibility from the individual and the business on the one hand and associating religious feeling between the individual and the business on the other is a contradiction of the concept of a corporation.

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  4. Jim Bullard says:

    An individual can set up a corporation. It’s called an LLC or Limited Liability Corporation. Like all other corporations its purpose is to separate the finances of the business from the finances of the individual and thus shield the individual’s assets from liability in the event that the business suffers loss or liability that exceeds the business’s assets. When the laws creating corporations were created I don’t believe that separate ‘personhood’ for any purpose beyond pecuniary was envisioned, certainly not religious purposes.

    As I see it the real flaw in the Supreme Court majority’s reasoning is that it associates the religious beliefs of the owner(s) with a legally separate entity. The owner is a deeply religious person ergo the business he owns is deeply religious. But the business is a non-human creation. It is tantamount to saying (for example) that because a person is a Buddhist his/her house and car are Buddhist. No non-living, non-human thing or enterprise is essentially religious. Separating financial responsibility from the individual and the business on the one hand and associating religious feeling between the individual and the business on the other is a contradiction of the concept of a corporation.

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  5. shovel says:

    Pete, so you’re saying that in your opinion pre-natal, delivery and post-natal care should not be covered by health insurance because pregnancy is not an illness? Or should we only cover women who have complications during pregnancy? What about premature infants? Or are you singling out birth control for non-coverage?

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  6. Jim Bullard says:

    The problem with Pete’s approach to health insurance is exactly what was and to a large extent still is wrong with our health care system and the reason why although we have the best technology we have the poorest outcomes of any developed nation (and several 3rd world nations). It is a reactive illness/injury care system not a proactive health care system. Insuring the full range of women’s health care including contraceptives is an important part of creating a healthy populace. Giving access to health care only when injury or illness is “serious” guarantees that we will remain at the bottom in terms of health outcomes.

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  7. Mervel says:

    Well the core issue and problem is that somehow the private place where we choose to work is responsible for our personal healthcare.

    As long as health care in this country is largely a private benefit and included as part of a compensation package, then that is a matter just like a wage or salary or the number of sick days offered, it is between the employer and the employee.

    Take other types of insurance as an example. Is your employer responsible for making sure you have the proper home, car, or life insurance? No those are bought by us on the private market. We need to get out of the whole idea of employer provided health insurance and move to single government payer or force the health care market to change enough that it is affordable for the average family to buy, much like car or home insurance. Right now that is impossible as health care is far far too expensive for most families and almost all seniors to purchase.

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  8. Mervel says:

    But the broader issue that Brian I think is getting at is the responsibility of these “entities” that is the modern corporation, that seem to me to be almost headless horsemen, not responsible to anyone or anything. Where the upside is reaped by the many owners, directors and so forth and the downside costs are often borne by the general public in some cases of environmental destruction or health related costs borne by those with no economic power.

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  9. Mervel says:

    If a corporation is a person, and in some ways it IS, than it must face the consequences both good and bad of its actions like we all do. When I say that it is a person I mean not in the Romney sense, but in the sense that corporations are created by people and would not exist without people. Those people;-owners-employees-Board of Directors- ARE the corporation, in that sense it is people. Those people need to be treated like other people, that means lifting the veil of legal indemnity and holding them responsible for the actions that they take.

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  10. myown says:

    The Hobby Lobby decision was a travesty on many levels. As Brian has focused on, the idea of “corporations as persons” has gotten out of hand. It is an absurd concept. Corporations don’t have feelings, beliefs, morality, or a finite existence as humans do. Corporations are an artificial entity that we humans created. Think of them as similar to robots. But they have turned on us and want the same rights as humans and individual citizens. We have allowed some to get so big that politicians say they are too big to fail. And our US Attorney General has said some are too big to jail.

    Corporations were supposed to protect owners from personal financial responsibility. But we have allowed them to become shields from all personal accountability. No corporate individuals are ever prosecuted – and shareholders pay the fines. But now corporations want to be exempt from laws based on their religious beliefs! Please, what a farce. The ruling was an excuse to allow company owners to impose their personal religious beliefs on all their 13,000 employees. Just outrageous.

    Not only do we need to be vigilant about enforcing the separation between church and state, but also the separation between corporation and state.

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  11. Two Cents says:

    it’s all wrong. all of it. wrong..

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  12. Jim Bullard says:

    As I have said elsewhere this brought to mind pre-WWI England & Europe where the aristocracy held most of the land and business. Their household staff, those who worked the land etc. were entirely beholden to them and the lord of the manor dictated not only the work conditions but many aspects of their personal lives as well. With this Supreme Court decision we are taking a step back in that direction. The US is becoming more of an aristocracy and less the land of the free.

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  13. myown says:

    Yes, there are many who would like to take us back to the 1800s – and at least 5 on the Supreme Corp, I mean Court. Corporations have become the front for the new aristocracy – hence the term Corporatocracy. In the past 40 years we have seen an intentional shift in our economic system toward rewarding capital over labor. The game has been rigged in favor of those with wealth over those who actually work. Labor is more highly taxed than capital, which receives all sorts of preferential treatment for capital gains, business expenses, etc. etc. Politicians let corporation lobbyists write the tax laws. As a result we have one of the highest rates of economic inequality ever.

    During the same period Republicans/Conservatives have waged a war on labor. Unions have been under relentless attack and are no longer significant in the private sector. The Harris vs. Quinn case is another step in the Republican/Conservative plan to also destroy public employee unions. Plus opposing raising the minimum wage, gutting Social Security and Medicare, and preventing government infrastructure investments so that unemployment will remain high. Their goal is to destroy economic security and make everyone fearful over how they will survive. That is how aristocracies maintain power over their peasants. And then they divert these fears by making scapegoats of immigrants and others and pitting one group against another.

    Will we go back that far? If we do history shows it won’t be pleasant as the peasants eventually revolt. And here is a one percenter who knows his history.
    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014.html#.U7TG4PldWSo

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  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It is pretty simple: Corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. Anyone who doesn’t have a Harvard education can tell you that.

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  15. Bill says:

    The first thing any lawyer learns in Corporations 1 is that corporations are, and always have been, persons. It’s foundational. But Romney is a bit wrong in thinking they’re PEOPLE, rather than persons. A corporation, once formed, is construed to be a person (a “constructive person”), and it will continue to be deemed as such by the state and federal governments, just so long as it’s owners conduct themselves in a way consistent with that separate identity. If the humans behind the corporation are found not to have done so, then the status of that corporation can be vacated, that is, be destroyed by a court “piercing the corporate veil.” What we have here is a reversal of that principle: corporations taking on the personal attributes of the owners, like their religions. Corporations are palpably our overlords, with more political power than the government itself, but I say they’ve long been that. It’s just now that they’re so strong, in control and confident, that they can be so brazen.

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  16. Mr. Kent says:

    Anyone who believes this was a just and proper decision by this highly partisan Supreme court must also believe that it is right someday, not that hard to imagine, when a oil rich Arab buys a big American business and it is owned by his family and they use the Quran to justify business practices.
    The Supreme Court made a horrible decision that will have future unintended consequences . You cannot just apply this decision to Christianity under any circumstance. To do so would be the creation of a State religion.

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  17. Mr. Kent says:

    Hobby Lobby buys its merchandise from China, a country that commonly practices and forces abortions as a State rule. They have no problem with that.

    Hobby Lobby does not believe in contraceptive methods equated with abortion or sterilization, like the IUD, but does not have a problem paying for vasectomies, or viagara and erectile dysfunction drugs.

    This isn’t a slippery slope, this is a cliff. Now you can just pick and choose what you believe and when you believe in it?

    Hobby Lobby still gets to claim the tax break for providing health care. This makes no sense. This is a perfect example of an Activist court taking away personal freedoms and choices in the name of Religious Freedom.

    Conservatives and Progressives alike should be outraged over this decision.

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  18. Peter Hahn says:

    What this says is that we need to think carefully about who we vote for – for president and to a lesser extent for the senate. We are going to get activist supreme court justices.

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  19. Mervel says:

    Well its not cut and dry in my mind. How far can the government go in telling business how to operate? I am not sure about the religious exemptions in the case of a non-religious entity, although I do have a problem with forcing people to go against their faith by a mandate, within reason. I am however very much against the government telling specifically religious entities such as Catholic Hospitals or schools, or Catholic Charities, or the Salvation Army or Lutheran Social services etc, that they must go against what they believe, to me that is where the mandate is really draconian.

    In the case of secular companies for profit, well that to me is different. I also think it makes a difference in how ownership is controlled. In Hobby Lobby’s case it is not a public company, they are owned by one family so you can asses those beliefs. However IBM is owned by millions of people and pension plans etc, so it would be much harder to say somehow something is against their faith; as there are millions of disparate owners.

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  20. Pete Klein says:

    To Shovel
    I am not suggesting woman who are pregnant should not receive health care or should not be insured for health care resulting from pregnancy.
    In fact, there are some health related problems that are not covered by most insurance plans that I believe should be covered.
    Examples include eye glasses and dental work.

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  21. dave says:

    I’m a little conflicted about this.

    I am personally uncomfortable with the government telling people how they should run their business. If someone wants to run their business poorly, offer crappy health benefits to their employees, I think they should be able to. I sure wouldn’t work for someone like that, and if Hobby Lobby employees don’t like it, neither should they.

    Furthermore, if we as a society think birth control is really that important for all citizens (and I happen to think it is), then we should provide it… as a society, via our government. We shouldn’t ask businesses to do so.

    So in that sense, I am OK with the outcome.

    However, I find the underlying rationale that the majority used in their judgement to be both absurd and dangerous. A business can exercise religious rights? That line of thought makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever to me. I can’t even fathom it. Those are individual rights. They apply to a business owner… the individual. And to the employees… the individuals. They do not apply to the business.

    The danger in extending individual rights to corporate entities should be apparent to everyone.

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  22. Walker says:

    First, it’s worth noting that Hobby Lobby provided contraception coverage before they decided to drop it to file suit against the ACA. Second, if they really were concerned about abortion, you would think that they wouldn’t buy so much of their merchandise from China. Seems as if their opposition has more to do with politics than with faith.

    Finally, the idea that corporations as “persons” shouldn’t be forced to “go against what they believe” opens a big, big door– if a corporation is owned by a Quaker, do they get to withhold the (very large) portion of their taxes that go to support our military? Etc., etc., etc.

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  23. Two Cents says:

    it was said–
    “I am however very much against the government telling specifically religious entities such as Catholic Hospitals or schools, or Catholic Charities, or the Salvation Army or Lutheran Social services etc, that they must go against what they believe, to me that is where the mandate is really draconian.”

    churches do not get to be a para-government in this country. at least that’s how I see it.
    they are a subset of society that live under this government, not along side of it, and certainly not above it.
    god hasn’t paid his taxes ever….

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  24. Two Cents says:

    the government forces the people under it to go against what they believe , every day.
    why does a religion get that exemption, the “sorry that goes against my belief” exemption to obey government rule, and i”m not saying the rules are right either.
    MY god, doesn’t allow the taxes on money I earn to be wasted by incompetent senators, laws I voted against, bad presidents, illegal bus loads of children.
    I just do it anyway because I’m stupid

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  25. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel, Show me any law that mandates any Catholic or anybody has to use contraception or have or do anything that is against their belief system. As you well know, it does not exist. The choice that should be a personal one has been stolen by the corporation. That is where the water got muddied.

    The Government did not go in to anybody’s church and lay down the law. It is only when the church ventures into the secular realm that they are asked to follow sectarian law. And that is as it should be. That should include religious schools too. Why? Because they receive massive amounts of public money to operate. Without those federally backed student loans, there is not one college or university in this country that would not suffer greatly, if not close their door completely.
    Tax exempt status is not free. That is laid on the public tax payer making up the difference.

    Bible says “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”…Never heard of any church have a problem not filling out the forms that allow them to skip that little tid bit of gospel lore.

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  26. Mr. Kent says:

    The gist of the whole affair is this: Either this part of the AFCA is lawfully applicable for all or it is eliminated for all. You cannot pick and choose who has to follow a law and who does not.

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  27. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Here’s a good one going around FB:

    Deuteronomy 15:1-2New King James Version (NKJV)

    Debts Canceled Every Seven Years
    15 “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. 2 And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release.

    I believe may have found God!

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  28. Mr. Kent says:

    PTL. No more mortgage.

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  29. mervel says:

    Mr. Kent,

    Its quite easy to show; the law mandated that a Christian institution, such as Catholic Hospitals or Catholic Charities, who exist only because the Church initiated those institutions and maintains them, as an outreach to the poor and vulnerable; must use their own funds to pay for what they believe is an abortion, which by Catholic doctrine is an intrinsic evil. That is what the law states. I know many would argue that the morning after pill is not an abortion but by Catholic doctrine it is.

    Its not just a Catholic issue it would apply to any Christian or Muslim group or whatever faith who believes that abortion is wrong. What this law demands is that these institutions take an active part in an abortion by mandating they pay for it. Which is the problem with employer provided health care in the first place. If the government offered health care and private institutions did not have to offer it as part of their benefits, it would be a different story. I would have no problem with that, then it is between you and the government.

    For a Catholic, to be involved in an abortion in ANY way, either by paying for it, facilitating it, or of course having it, is a grave sin, which goes directly against our basic spiritual beliefs. Not everyone agrees of course, but to force a religion to do something like that I think is very draconian and goes against our constitution.

    Now it may come to a place where these institutions all must close, we will see. A good portion of the health care in the US is provided by Catholic Institutions, a majority of the private charity to help the poor in this country is provided by Religious Charities, such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, countless Rescue missions etc. It would be a loss to this country and a great burden to eliminate them and serving the poor IS part of the Christian mission in this life.

    Ironically the Catholic Church and many other Christian groups support universal single payer health government provided health insurance for all as a basic human rights issue. I think removing this one narrow issue, may help support for the health care law.

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  30. myown says:

    It is embarrassing to see the extent to which the five conservative male Catholic activist judges on the Supreme Court are willing to contort logic and settled law in order to deny basic healthcare (birth control/contraception) to women. Their granting of personal religious rights to corporations, and the future claims that will be made as a result, borders on insanity.

    But they have also deliberately misconstrued the concept of religious freedom by turning it on end. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibits the government from enforcing laws that place a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion. Nothing in the Affordable Care Act prevents the individual owners of Hobby Lobby from praying, worshiping, going to church or other forms of personal religious experience. The ACA simply requires that a corporate business provide a standard healthcare policy to its employees. Yes, a single payer healthcare system would be much better than the expensive mess we have now.

    When a company buys a health insurance policy for its employees it is not a la carte for each person but a universal policy for all. Employees have access to the same benefits but they decide when and how they need them, not the company owners. It is beyond absurd that a corporation can object to individual healthcare items based on religion. No one is forcing the owners of Hobby Lobby to utilize the contraceptives themselves, which would be a violation of religious freedom. And no one is forcing the employees of Hobby Lobby to utilize them either. But it is not religious freedom when a corporation can deny standard healthcare to its employees. It is the opposite of religious freedom when a company’s owners can impose their religious beliefs on their employees. The conceptual objection to birth control/contraceptives by a corporation’s owners does not trump the personal right of its employees to receive the benefits of a mandated healthcare policy.

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  31. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel, the picture you paint does not match the reality. I would direct you to what is happening in the health care industry. This article regarding the State of Washington, just one example, paints a totally different landscape than the ” holding on by their fingernails” Catholic health Care system which is expanding in this country. There is no defense for what the “Church” is doing to the health care system in Washington and many other states. None. The church is attempting to become the state. That is evident from all of this. The very antithesis of what this country was founded on.

    http://crosscut.com/2014/01/07/health-medicine/118200/washingtons-looming-catholic-hospital-takeover/

    Interesting indeed. And scary that the Vatican now decides what services a patient can receive. But do keep that medicare and medicaid money flowing in to pay for it all.

    You want to be a church and a religion then be a church and minster to the flock. Sorry, but if you want to spread out into the secular world and become health care providers ( they are all for profit, all of them, because they get paid. Got it. And paid well, and mostly with federal medicare medicaid backed funds , and tax exempt status), then your rules do not apply. Period….It started years ago, but the church stopped being a church the day they decided to join the political arena, and that is what they did and used religion as their shield.

    Government did not step into the church, the church has stepped into government….No catholic need do anything they do not want to. The signing of a form? Honestly? Truly? come on, the church signs every form to keep their tax exempt status even though the bible says ” Render unto Caeser….” or justifying wars or anything else when it serves their purpose..

    A majority of Catholic do not agree with the church on the whole contraception issue. And you know it and every poll says the same thing. So WHO is driving that bus and WHY?

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  32. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel, who said anything about abortion? What is the reasoning for denying vasectomies, tubal ligations or any contraception measures in the Catholic Hospitals in the State of Washington. Not even abortion when a woman will die with out one? That is their rule. They choose who may live, but who will definitely die? Is THAT no murder?

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  33. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel, the Catholic Church sure did not have any problem signing off on hundreds, or more, of Priests they knew were sexually abusing young boys and declaring them fit to go to the next Parish or Diocese or your local church. Nothing in the bible about that I guess. Situational ethics seems to be acceptable.

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  34. j.g.king says:

    Corporations and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) (which may elect to act as a sole proprietor, partnership, or corporation) are entities created by government. Their purpose is to limit the liability of their owners. The concept is that government fosters economic development by isolating entrepreneurs from personal liability and thus encouraging risk taking. The entrepreneur risks only herown investment.

    A corporation (in the United States), whether closely held or public and whether for profit or not-for-profit, is chartered by a state. Each state has its only laws governing corporations. Favorable laws are one of the reasons many corporations are chartered in Delaware. There are very few corporations charted by the Federal Government. Historically the point of chartering was as a control over the owners. A state (usually personified by the Secretary of State) which was disappointed in the behavior of a chartered corporation could revoke that charter. Theory, not practice.

    Revoking the charter of a corporation is the equivalent of the death penalty. The difference is that the bad behavior stops, but no human is killed.

    The Supreme Court, in its rulings on corporations, is interpreting law, not the Constitution. The recent Supreme Court decisions should encourage each state legislature and Congress to revamp corporation law to more clearly define the extent that a corporation is a “legal person” as opposed to a citizen or human.

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  35. Jeff says:

    Would the court’s response be different if a sole proprietor had been included in the case? I am thinking the decision would have been the same.

    We are not corporations, corporations- under law, are handled like individuals rather than a mass of owners. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga don’t do business merely in one state and the Federal law was intended for every state where those corporation do business, not where they are domiciled.

    Had the Oregon vs. Smith case not held for the state and let Smith take peyote on his own religious time and let him get un-employment for unlawful firing we wouldn’t be here. They infringed on his religious liberty. Our culture changes (permitting pot smoking) and today that decision may have been different. Be patient, things will be different, not necessarily for the best.

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  36. Corporations are not people. They have more rights and influence.

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  37. Mr. Kent says:

    All five justices who decided in favor of Hobby Lobby are Catholic males appointed by Republican presidents.

    Just sayin’ But if that does not ring a bell, then you are deaf.

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  38. Mervel says:

    Mr. Kent, sorry you have a bug about the Catholic Church and or Christians in general; but the issue is much broader than just a Catholic or Christian one. When you go down the road of defining and forcing religious institutions who are indeed the main providers of private charity to the poor, to go against their own teachings I do think you run into a big constitutional issue. It is part of their mission to provide these services its part of their faith so yeah being involved in the world in that sense IS part of the faith. One of the most galling parts of this part of the law was they claimed that Religious charities that did NOT discriminate based on religion, were not religious “enough” to get an exemption. But of course providing Charity to the poor regardless of who they are is a core value.

    Consider the danger of the decision going the other way allowing the government to dictate benefits that go against your ideals or values. Say a hard core right wing president is elected, which is not out of the possibility, they could pass a health care law that would force any not for profit operating in the “secular” world to do things I am sure you would find very offensive.

    To me the bigger danger in all of this is looking at corporations and how we treat them. In this I think we have big problems in that they operate in society without true restrictions. No one yet has been prosecuted for the massive banking frauds that caused the crash. In fact the big corporate banks have been rewarded. So we have deep issues with treating corporations not as people, in fact we treat them better than people.

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  39. Mervel says:

    Also the core health care issue is pretty direct; as long we don’t have a single payer government provided health care option and thus most citizens in the US have to rely on their private employer to give them health care as an optional benefit, we will have trouble over a range of issues not just religious freedom issues. Health care insurance should either be provided by the government or be cheap enough for the average family to purchase. Neither one of those situations exist for working families today.

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  40. hermit thrush says:

    one of the “good” (by which i guess i mean less bad) things about hobby lobby is that it was a statutory (as opposed to constitutional) ruling, and therefore it’s something than congress can fix directly. senate democrats are introducing a bill to do just that (at least as far as the immediate issue of access to contraception goes). unfortunately it’ll never see the light of day in the gop-controlled house, but at least it’s a start. and fancy that, i hear there’s an interesting congressional race shaping up in the 21st district. getting the candidates’ take on the bill might be a good story for an enterprising local news outfit to pursue, wink wink.

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  41. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel, sorry you have a bug about the right of an individual to choose what health care works best for them, Democracy in general or the concept of separation of church and state, but the issue is no more complex than this: Either a corporate board room or your boss can dictate what is best for you and your family and a women’s private health decisions, or the individual can.

    You cannot have it both ways. The Government’s position allows for freedom of choice by the individual. The church’s position makes that decision for you. Parse it any way you want, but that is the whole of it.

    At least our Government is freely elected by those it governs. That cannot be said of the church.

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  42. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel, you have to work with the system you have. There is no single payer government provided health care system. It is pointless to even bring it in to a discussion to support any opinion. It would be like a man thrown overboard in an ocean and left alone saying ” If only I had a boat that could get me home I could solve this problem.” Well ya don’t have it fella, so start swimming.

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  43. Mr. Kent says:

    When religion is misused to justify discrimination, it becomes the tool to commit the sin of discrimination.

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  44. Mervel says:

    But I think Mr. Kent that as an employee you decide what benefits you will have when you make your employment decision. That is your freedom. So we have the freedom to choose to work for a Catholic organization or not.

    If you freely choose to work for planned parenthood you would assume that you would agree to that work environment. So lets say I was severely pro-life, a real crazy about it! Then I went to work for Planned Parenthood and was very upset that my employer was offering abortions and birth control, and in fact thought I should not be subjected to being around this sort of thing. I don’t think most of us would not have much sympathy for that person nor should we. The same would hold for someone who freely chooses to work for a Catholic institution then demands that the institution pay for their birth control, or even worse the government strong arms them into paying for it.

    But lets back up a little. Look how sidelined we are by this one narrow issue, and it IS a narrow issue. The larger point is how we look at corporations in general. I do have a stricter view of them than I do religious institutions. For me I have far less sympathy for Hobby Lobby than I do say the Salvation Army when it comes to the mandates.

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  45. Mervel says:

    But I think Mr. Kent that as an employee you decide what benefits you will have when you make your employment decision. That is your freedom. So we have the freedom to choose to work for a Catholic organization or not.

    If you freely choose to work for planned parenthood you would assume that you would agree to that work environment. So lets say I was severely pro-life, a real crazy about it! Then I went to work for Planned Parenthood and was very upset that my employer was offering abortions and birth control, and in fact thought I should not be subjected to being around this sort of thing. I don’t think most of us would not have much sympathy for that person nor should we. The same would hold for someone who freely chooses to work for a Catholic institution then demands that the institution pay for their birth control, or even worse the government strong arms them into paying for it.

    But lets back up a little. Look how sidelined we are by this one narrow issue, and it IS a narrow issue. The larger point is how we look at corporations in general.

    I do have a different view of them than I do religious institutions. For me I have far less sympathy for Hobby Lobby invoking an exemption based on faith than I do say the Salvation Army or Baptist Health systems etc, when it comes to the various mandates.

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  46. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel. Interesting analogy, but I find it hard to equate hobby lobby and what they do for a business and their religious beliefs with planned parenthood. do note: 99% of what planned parenthood does has nothing to do with abortion and by law no federal dollars are involved. None.

    Hobby Lobby also has the choice to NOT buy their goods from China where abortion is law once you have reached your limit on children. They chose to do business with the Chinese, but choose not to with the U.S. Government. Why? Money trumps morality? The galling part to me is the lawyering up now to claim that to sign a form so the Government can see that a full service health care package for women is provided is participating is beyond reproach. They are playing ” Heads I win, Tails you lose.” I hope the Supreme court comes to its senses over that issue. It is 50/50 on that one, all depends on Justice kennedy.

    Mervel, you are a good man and a thoughtful one. I always enjoy your posts. Sorry if this angers me, but it does. Took it out on you at times. My bad.

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  47. Jim Bullard says:

    Regarding Mervel’s argument that providing services like health care is part of the mission of the church I would suggest that he would be correct if the church did so with their own money as an act of charity. However they are paid for services by taxpayer dollars and by dollars from insurance companies neither of which has the same limits. Further most of those dollars come from people who do not share the church’s qualms about reproductive medicine (including most Catholics). As for performance of the service, if you don’t want to provide all the services required by a modern health care facility, don’t go into that business.

    The other argument Hobby Lobby presents is founded on the notion that all the money earned by the corporation is property of the company and that it remains their money after they pay for the insurance. In the first instance the money earned by the corporation is the corporation’s, a separate non-religious entity. Further the employees of the corporation as major contributors to the success of the corporation have legitimate claim to a portion of those earnings in the form of their wages and benefits before the owners have claim to any profits (their share of the total proceeds). That is a matter of law. The owner’s belief suggests that anything they give the employees is an act of charity from the largess of the corporation which is exclusively theirs, the lord of the manor attitude toward the peasants who they ‘permit’ to share in their wealth.

    Wages and mandated benefits are a recognition of and compensation for the employees contribution to an enterprise. They are not something which is entirely at the whim and condescension of the employer except in an aristocracy, something our ancestors fought to escape from.

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