Aren’t we all so relieved that corporations have finally found religion? After all, that’s the point of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases being heard in the Supreme Court this week, right? The Affordable Care Act requires that all private, medium or large size corporations provide health insurance for their employees that covers all forms of contraception at no cost. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are trying to evade this requirement by creating a new category of faith—corporate religion.
Anyone who has paid a moment’s attention to the behaviors of big corporations in America over the past forty years is probably confused—and should be. After all, corporations have been busily dodging religious values and moral culpability in driving down the wages of workers, fraudulently selling homes and then robo-signing foreclosures, and generally bankrupting the middle class while corporate profits have skyrocketed.
During this past economic recovery, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans captured 95 percent of the post-financial crisis growth since 2009—while the bottom 90 percent of Americans became poorer. And inequality was already bad enough—the top 1 percent of Americans control one-third of our nation’s wealth even as their income disproportionately rises faster than everyone else’s. If the minimum wage kept pace with the rising incomes of the top 1 percent in America, it would now be $22.62 an hour (instead of $7.25). Worldwide, 85 of the richest people in the world control as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion of the world’s population.
But no, the big businesses of America are not finding religion to throw themselves at public mercy and plead guilt for their sins of corruption and greed. Instead, corporate America is trying to use religion to achieve new heights of greed and corruption. In this context, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are best understood as having nothing to do with religious freedom or even the perpetual attempt to undermine Obamacare. Fundamentally, these cases are extensions of the undying and unbounded campaign of big business to obliterate all laws or restrictions of their power.
If Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are wrongly decided, our constitutional protections for genuine religious beliefs will be turned into corporate loopholes. Imagine what General Electric and Bank of America and Exxon Mobile and every less-than-scrupulous business in America will do. Corporations could argue religious objections to hiring gay people or unmarried pregnant women. Businesses could claim religion in refusing to serve same-sex couples and interracial couples. Corporations could deny health insurance coverage for vaccines or alcoholism treatment or blood transfusions or HIV/AIDS based on religion. Even basic workplace laws and pension oversight obligations could be attacked on religious grounds. And while some of these claims might not stand, even a glimmer of precedent from the wrong Hobby Lobby and Conestoga ruling would give such claims enough standing to tie up our government in endless litigation and waste tons of taxpayer dollars. With some superglue from Hobby Lobby and some wood from Conestoga, you can build yourself one heck of a dangerous slippery slope.
Undoubtedly, just as big business has been endlessly clever in manipulating our current laws to its extraordinary benefit, so too would it find even more possibilities of exploitation and exemption under the guise of “religious freedom.” I won’t besmirch the piety of the owners of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood—I’m sure their faith is real and deep and their opposition to certain forms of contraception are genuine, however much I and the weight of science disagree with them. Private business simply can’t be allowed to assert religious protections every time they disagree with a tenet of law. And no matter how religious their founders, they chose to form corporations, to benefit from the legal protections and special rights afforded corporations in America, in exchange for giving up certain other rights. Meanwhile churches are exempted from many laws, including the contraception mandate in Obamacare and non-discrimination laws and all kinds of things. You don’t get to be both. You can’t your LLC and your church exemptions, too.
Private corporations are more powerful today than at any other point in our nation’s history but I guess buying up our politicians, destroying regulations and rigging the economy simply isn’t enough. Big business wants more power and will aggressively pursue more and more power with zeal. One might even call that zeal religious—which would be the only genuinely religious thing about big business in America today.