The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 16, 2014

My View: Hobby Lobby ruling errs on freedom issue

— The July 6 Free Press editorial on the Hobby Lobby case strikes me as no worse than the terribly perverse activism of five Supreme Court justices.

First, the editorial accepts the perverse thinking that, when corporations are defined as persons for specific commercial purposes, it follows that they possess all the same rights as all natural persons. In particular, this means they have the right to religious freedom just as much as any other person.

In justification, the Court majority argues that, since a corporation is an association of persons, any legal rights possessed by a corporation are really a way of protecting the rights of the individual persons in the association.(1)

In other words, it's not really treating the corporation as a person; giving it person status is just a token for the rights of individuals in the corporation. Aside from the confusion this causes, the argument might make some sense as long as those corporate rights are confined merely to the specific commercial purposes a corporate association serves. But when the Court majority extends these corporate rights to include general rights not related to commercial purposes, such as freedom of religion, they are well beyond the scope of any reasonable interpretation of corporate personhood.(2)

Secondly, The Free Press argument that the Court majority opinion was demanded by existing law, including "the law of unintended consequences," is faulty. It makes the fundamental mistake of elevating a fact for consideration into a legal principle. That laws often have unintended consequences is a fact for consideration. It does not follow, as a legal principle, that all unintended consequences of a law are legal.(3)

According to The Free Press, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, passed by Congress in 1993) so broadened freedom of religion that the Supreme Court had to exempt Hobby Lobby from the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds. The ruling was just an unintended consequence demanded by the RFRA.

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