Category Archives: SCOTUS

The care of the corporate soul . . .

You really should read the SCOTUS decision on Hobby Lobby. These court rulings actually do make for some interesting reading and, in this particular case, raise some challenging questions to the religious community.

Just so you know, I am not going to deal with the more obvious and controversial aspects of this ruling. Others are batting these aspects about. I am going to consider just one, small, peculiar aspect of this Supreme Court decision that piques my curiosity.

In the majority opinion, we learn that that “sincere Christian beliefs” and “honest (religious) conviction” are sufficient grounds for the Court to consider it necessary to protect the religious liberty and the free-exercise rights of the people who control “closely held corporations.” However, the Court also points out, referencing other statutes, that “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief” is sufficient. Since the Court claims no right to distinguish between valid or specious “beliefs” or “convictions,” the “person” can declare whatever he/she/it wants to be a religious belief or conviction. The Court is not interested in being the arbiter in matters religious; so, John Q. Hobby can assert whatever “sincere Christian belief” he/she/it wishes and the Court appears to obligate itself to accept it without question. Moreover, there is no place for the broader religious community to challenge such assertions of religious or faith as fact or fiction.  At least by my read of this decision, SCOTUS has depreciated the idea of religion as a corporate expression (e.g. the Body of Christ) and reduced it to an individual concept, vacuous of any measured content or collective validation. For those traditions with ecclesial magisterium or some collective wisdom or authority, this decision appears to offer legal sanction for the “person” to attribute or assert whatever faith/religious values he/she/it wants and attribute this opinion to whatever faith tradition he/she/it desires and the Court is obligated to accept it without validation by any magisterium or collective authority of the tradition claimed. While some may applaud this depreciation and individuation of faith, for this Anglican it is a step backwards and raises some serious concerns.

In addition, consistency in the application of a belief system of the “person” claiming an “honest (religious) conviction” seem irrelevant. For example, a construction company (a “closely held corporation”) announced immediately its intent to exercise it religious prerogative subsequent to Hobby Lobby and limit or eliminate birth control from its health insurance. They claim their “sincere Christian belief” based upon the teachings of their Roman Catholic faith. This same company has contracts with the US government to build nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities. In their public statement regarding birth control, they claimed they should not be required to participate even indirectly by providing medication that could result in the death of an embryo. When challenged that the Roman Catholic faith they claim as basis for this position maintains a well-documented, faith-based opposition to nuclear weapons, the company stated, “(We have) a long history of working with the federal government, including building military facilities. However, electing to work with the government in that regard is different than complying with a mandate to provide abortifacients.” Apparently, the “indirect” criterion does not apply to weapons of mass killing. Based on my read of the Hobby Lobby decision, the Church (in this instance, the Roman Catholic Church) would have no standing to suggest to the Court such inconsistencies held by the “person” at least casts doubt on the “sincere Christian belief” and the “honest (religious) convictions” of the “closely held corporation.” Purely by virtue of claiming a “sincere Christian beliefs” or an “honest (religious) conviction” a “person” makes it so; no inherent faith consistency or external validation appears required by the Court.

Far from wrestling with the obvious focus of this decision, my intent is to suggest the Hobby Lobby decision has many additional consequences and repercussions. For the faith community, we should at least be cognizant of its threat to the idea of ecclesiology as we know it. While a highly individuated religion may be celebrated by some, it is certainly not consistent with many traditional expressions of Christianity for the past 2000+ years. So, beneath the obvious, there is often the not so obvious. These less obvious elements frequently have more complex and nuanced consequences.

By the way, any thoughts on how a priest should care for corporate souls now that SCOTUS, like the great and powerful Oz, has bestowed such upon corporate America?

(Note: I recall in the Vietnam era, one claiming conscientious objector status on religious grounds had to bring to the draft board some validation from an official representative of the faith tradition that CO status was consistent with the teachings of the faith tradition—apparently no such validation would be needed anymore.)

Disclaimer: No part of this blog was written by an attorney nor was it pre-screened by an attorney. Consequently, nothing about this blog should be considered at legally authoritative. These thoughts are merely the musings of this writer who, while not an attorney, appreciates the work of attorneys and finds reading Supreme Court decisions worth the time required; though, I am sometimes confounded by the tortured language and obscure logic employed. Note: Would some attorney who reads this offer me their opinion re: the consequences of this line in the majority opinion, “Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything” (pp 18-19) as to joint and shared criminal and civil liability for the “person” (corporation) and the “person” (the human beings ) if the corporation can do nothing separate and apart from the organic person who own, run, and are employed by the “person” (corporation)?


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