Playing Church in the Corporate Boardroom

hobby lobby supreme court decisionNo, the sky didn’t fall with the SCOTUS decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The Court majority siding with the Green family took care to claim that the decision’s impact will be very limited. They framed it as a narrow decision. Many are likely to shrug and say, “So what?”

The sky didn’t fall. But the air is now ionized differently, and folks with a good nose for weather know that storms are surely coming.

In this ruling, the fundamental distinction and separation between a commercial enterprise and a specifically religious or “ecclesiastical” corporation has been fatally breached. We can expect other large commercial enterprises to start donning ecclesiastical robes when it suits them to do so. Their owners will declare that their hearts are “strangely warmed” (John Wesley) when, in fact, it will be their pecuniary interests (or their pure prejudices) that drive their determination to resist regulation.

The owners of Koch Industries are known to have a religious commitment to burning fossil fuels. How long do you think it will take them to bring an objection to EPA regulation of emissions?

No one should be fooled by the fact that the Court majority limits the scope of its decision to closely held corporations.

More than 90% of U.S. business corporations are closely held; most but not all of these are family-owned businesses.

Forbes says that in 2013, purely private companies alone employed 4.5 million people. The top private employers include household names like Dell, Cargill, Mars, Heinz, Dole, Kohler, Hilton, Bloomberg, etc.

peter-laarmanNor should anyone think that the religious or “conscientious” objections floating up from these corporations will stop with Green family-style objections to providing certain forms of contraception. There are many other laws and regulations that closely held corporations may now decide are religiously objectionable.

The owners of Koch Industries are known to have a religious commitment to burning fossil fuels. How long do you think it will take them to bring an objection to EPA regulation of emissions?

peter laarmanLikewise, closely held corporations have long been among the fiercest enemies of unions and collective bargaining. I predict they will find plenty of “religious” arguments for refusing to comply with the National Labor Relations Act or with certain rulings of the National Labor Relations Board.

The five justices who prevailed in this case know perfectly well that other corporate challenges to accepted “common good” regulations and requirements are on their way, albeit not in the immediate future. Hobby Lobby is but the thin edge of the wedge.

Peter Laarman
Religion Dispatches

Republished with the author’s permission

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