Editorial: SCOTUS favors ‘corporate rights’ over the individual

The Supreme Court decided in favor of the “rights” for a subset of the population over that of a much larger majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on Monday.

The majority, in this case, are women and the subset of the population winning “rights” are corporations. The latest interpretation of corporate personhood — the legal concept that asserts corporations be treated as “people” under the law — allows corporations to express their beliefs via company policy, even if it interferes with people who are much more mortal.

The court ruled 5-4 that for-profit employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under Obamacare.

“The purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporations, including shareholders, officers and employees,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

Alito is referring to religious freedom and, by his logic, the religious beliefs of everyone “associated with the corporation” are uniform.

That is inherently untrue. Under various federal and state laws, businesses cannot discriminate against employees or potential employees based on religion. Considering our highly diverse nation, a large business consisting of people with only one type of religious affiliation is highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, the majority decision has the possibility to undermine the clarity of this very basic freedom our country’s workforce has become so accustomed to.

Alito emphasized that the ruling possesses a limited scope, writing that it only applies to “the religious liberty of the humans who own and control (corporations).” But it doesn’t — those who own and control corporations play a fairly large role in the lives of the private citizens who work under them, providing wages, healthcare and other essential benefits.

No, the interpretation of corporate personhood has many more implications that go well beyond the rights of business owners.

“The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”

Ginsburg questioned what the ruling would mean for worker health coverage under employers who could now potentially deny them a plethora of coverage for their own religiously grounded reasons. 

“Would the exemption … extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists) … and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?” Ginsburg wrote in her opinion. 

The answer to Ginsburg’s question is, unfortunately, now a lot less straightforward.

The majority opinion’s interpretation of corporate personhood has the potential to redraw the line between the workplace and the home — it gives the employer more power to decide how the employee can handle his or her own health care. Not to mention, it implies that the corporation itself is just an extension of the owner’s own personal religious beliefs.

By imposing the beliefs of a few on the lives of many, the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case has shattered the privacy that has been so long associated with religious freedom.