Welcome Back: Proposed 28th amendment: Corporations are not people

By Stephen Caruso / For The Pitt News

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After the 1888 case of Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining and Milling Company vs. Pennsylvania, the United States legal system established that a corporation holds the status of a person. But in order for democracy to be effective, it must be flexible to change.

It is time to take dramatic action against corporate rights in America. 

Set it in stone in the Constitution: A corporation does not have the rights of a U.S. citizen. A corporation is not an individual with thoughts and feelings, with a right to vote or a threat of conscription. A corporation consists of a group of people attempting to split liability for a given purpose, which can in the case of, say, Hobby Lobby, be simply for profit.

This isn’t to degrade the profit motive — it is a powerful force and leads to better conditions for all. The course of American history shows how an individual chasing profit can improve the lot of an entire nation. The city of Pittsburgh itself is testimony to Andrew Carnegie’s drive for profit.

But for-profit corporations should not be granted the legal right to abstain from its duty as an employer because of “morals.” Employers may play Christian rock and display Christmas decorations in their stores but they should not have the right to dictate the way their employees live their lives outside of their jobs, as no group does except the government as elected by the people. The Declaration of Independence claims “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the goal of government. Can one pursue happiness in sickness? 

It is far too dangerous a precedent to set that any corporation can hobble together some principles in order to deny coverage. Slippery slopes are not my favorite argumentative technique, but this much axle grease on Mount Everest will cause problems. Could a company with a Catholic executive board deny all contraceptive care to its employees? A troubling thought.

The government even recognized a difference between for-profit and nonprofit groups by allowing exceptions for religious-based charities in terms of exceptions to providing birth control coverage. The difference is, of course, that for a group to qualify for an exemption, other than being nonprofit, they have to “have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” “primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets” and “primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets,” according to the United Healthcare’s website. Such tenets are reasonable; private entities do not actively force their values on individuals. 

The ideal of the American government is that, through elected representatives, laws will reflect the will of the electorate. Thus, all will abide by them in good faith. Even when the voters disagree with a law, they still believe in the process of democracy. 

But an employer pushing an agenda on his or her employees indicates a one-sided deal. Did the employee willingly choose to apply for the job? Yes. But this choice has much more to do with a need for money than any agreement with the values of an employer. Values should not only be available to those who can afford them.

As details emerge on its 401k, Hobby Lobby’s complaint can no longer be seen as genuine. A report published by Mother Jones showed that Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan is invested in numerous pharmaceutical companies, including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which produces Plan B pills and IUDs, both protested as not only birth control, but as akin to abortion by Hobby Lobby’s lawyers. How could a “closely held company,” which is granted a reprieve on having to cover such devices due to their morals, be invested in them just the same? 

The Holy Grail of corporate personhood, Citizens United, let money equal free speech for corporations. So, Hobby Lobby is speaking in contradictions, both proclaiming the violation of its sacrosanct right to freedom of conscience while letting its special form of free speech — corporate money — tell an entirely different story.

This is why we need action. Although hypocrisy is not a crime, to let one special group act so duplicitously and receive government consent is not democracy in any sense. Pass an amendment to reverse this trend and allow for a level playing field for all true citizens of the republic.

Write to Stephen at sjc79@pitt.edu


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