Freedom of religion for the Market Worshippers?

Freedom of religion for the Market Worshippers?

by digby

Perhaps we haven't gone 100% irrational just yet:
Late last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied a for-profit company’s request for an order permitting it to ignore federal regulations requiring it to provide birth control coverage to its employees. As with many of these cases filed in other courts, the corporation argued that it should be immune to the law because the companies’ shareholders object to birth control on religious grounds. It should be noted that this is a preliminary order and that the court’s ultimate resolution of the case could be different. Nevertheless, a majority of the three judge panel concludes that “a secular, for-profit corporation, Conestoga has no free exercise rights under the First Amendment, and is not a ‘person’” for purposes of a federal law enhancing the protection available to people with religious objections to federal laws.

In a concurring opinion, Nixon-appointed Judge Leonard Garth explains why the owners of a for-profit corporation should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on the corporation’s employees:

[F]or-profit corporate entities, unlike religious non-profit organizations, do not—and cannot—legally claim a right to exercise or establish a “corporate” religion under the First Amendment or the RFRA. As the District Court noted, “[g]eneral business corporations … do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” Unlike religious non-profit corporations or organizations, the religious liberty relevant in the context of for-profit corporations is the liberty of its individuals, not of a profit-seeking corporate entity.

Conestoga further claims that it should be construed as holding the religious beliefs of its owners. This claim is belied by the fact that, as the District Court correctly noted, “‘[i]ncorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs’ . . . . It would be entirely inconsistent to allow the Hahns to enjoy the benefits of incorporation, while simultaneously piercing the corporate veil for the limited purpose of challenging these regulations.”
Of course they want it both ways.  And if this were to proceed in their favor, they'd be able to assert "religious liberty" in all kinds of ways while avoiding individual liability. At which point, the corporation would be a religion under the law. (Not that it isn't in practice already ...)

Who knows where this goes when it gets to the high court. But this is a good sign that the courts generally haven't lost their marbles and decided to grant "religious freedom" to a capitalistic enterprise.

Personally, I believe that all religious freedom belongs to individuals, but that's just me.