Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sandra Fluke's silly ideas about corporations and religion

Tuesday, in addition to being the Solemnity of the Annunciation, was also the day that two cases concerning the so-called contraception mandate. As we all know, in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a rule -- under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (so-called; aka "Obamacare") -- that widely compels employers, even many religious employers, into facilitating the provision of sterilization and contraception, including those medications that actually destroy a newly conceived child.

Well, as everyone probably knows, some companies sued, and Tuesday was their day in the High Court. Because this subject concerns me greatly, I was eagerly reading all I could about it since then.

Now, one of the things that fascinates me about this is some of the nonsense people have said about this:

> What contraception I use is a private matter.

Then you agree with those suing the government. What Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood -- the two companies in question -- want is to be left out of your contraception/abortion/sterilization decisions. Why do you want them to be involved?

> "Corporations aren't people" (from Sandra Fluke, who graduated from Georgetown Law School and is now a "social justice attorney."

Well, Ms. Fluke is an attorney and I'm not, but I do know this much: our laws treat corporations as "persons," for many good reasons. This isn't something all that new; and like lots of legal principles, it makes sense when you think about it.

What's a corporation? A group of people acting together for some purpose. It might be a business; or it might be a charity; or a club; or a religious body. Why form a corporation? Well, because it smooths out a lot of things involved in trying to operate your business/charity/club/religion.

According to Ms. Fluke -- in a Washington Post op-ed this week -- "Corporations can't have religious views." I'm sorry, but that's embarrassing. (I thought about adding a comment about her alma mater, but it's just too easy.)

Of course a corporation can have religious views -- because the corporation is the collective action of the people who formed it and run it. That includes religious organizations, charities, mosques, synagogues and churches. They don't have religious views?

Now, you're going to say, but she meant companies. And I admit, it's not terribly likely or practical for, say, Coca-Cola to have any express religious views; but I don't know that it couldn't if the owners wanted it to. But when "owners" means untold millions of shareholders, it's almost impossible to see how that would work.

But if we change that to "ethical" views, then I wonder if Ms. Fluke and others who take this line have been paying attention? Because for decades, many organizations have been working on the leaders and shareholders of corporations to adopt various ethical stances: no animal testing, no blood diamonds, no helping South Africa when it practiced apartheid, no pornography in hotel rooms, etc.

In fact, such efforts are quite current: witness all the efforts to get...wait for it...corporations to take a stance on gay rights and so-called gay marriage. So Guinness and Sam Adams both pulled out of the New York City Saint Patrick Day Parade because the parade organizers wouldn't let people march in the parade advocating pro-homosexual-behavior or pro-same-sex-marriage causes.

Those appeals to companies to take sides in these things isn't an effort to get them to express ethical values? What is it?

Some will reply, it's "just good business." And I don't doubt that's true.

So, back in February, CVS pharmacies announced they will stop selling tobacco. The company admits it will lose $2 billion in revenue. "Good business"?

Now, this line of thought -- that according rights to corporations is bizarre and dangerous etc. (Ms. Fluke uses words like "catastrophe" and "slippery slope") -- also shows up in the discussion of so-called "campaign finance reform." Remember a few years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the Citizens United case, something about this? If you don't know better, you'd think the Citizens United ruling invented this idea of corporate personhood.

And after that, some folks -- including some politicians -- actually started ginning up an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to "solve this problem." So one proposal was the so-called "Peoples Rights Amendment," which says the following:

People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution (Emphasis added)>

Do you know what that means? No organization, club, religion, charity, etc. -- in addition to businesses -- formed as "corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities" will have any rights under the Constitution.

Bye-bye, First Amendment, which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (Emphasis added).

With this amendment, free speech is only an individual right; never collective. And the press? They are not only corporations, but even for-profit! Horrors! So their rights would be stripped out of the Constitution.

(Now, I must note here that the proposed amendment goes on to say that this won't be construed as limiting "people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable." Just one problem; the provisions before this expressly say these "inalienable" rights no longer apply to anyone but "natural persons," not corporations. Except in the extremely unlikely event the courts would rule that the two provisions cancel each other out, the only result can be that "corporations" -- cue boos -- will no longer be accorded rights under the constitution, amended for that very purpose.)

Here's the thing: boil it down, a corporation is a collective action of people. Yes, I realize there's more to it, particularly in how corporations make decisions. And I'm not saying a corporation is exactly the same, legally or morally, as a natural person. (And our laws don't take that view.)

The point I am making is that while you can't fully equate a corporation to a natural person, you also can't entirely divorce a corporation from natural persons, either. Is there anywhere in the world a corporation that exists and operates, with a total absence of human persons involved? That's not as far-fetched as it sounds, particularly as technology progresses. But I'm guessing there isn't.

So in the case of Hobby Lobby. Sure, there is a legal entity that exists, for tax and legal purposes, that is distinct from the human beings who operate it. And yet, the company is never wholly divorced from the people who own and operate the company.

What folks who take this line are advocating is one of two things: either some sort of formal, legal action that really does separate a company from it's owners -- but that's not going to fly; or a moral separation...

"Mr. Jones, I entirely agree with you about animal testing. It's horrible. I'll never do it.

"My company, however, is another matter. It has no conscience. Good day!"


Shouting Thomas said...

It has occurred to me lately that this issue, along with the Obamacare attack on Catholic charities and educational institutions, is a deliberate attempt to crush all opposition to government power.

The corporate "personhood" issue is obvious blarney. The NY Times is a corporation. That proposed amendment would ban the editorial pages of the Times.

Michael Haz said...

Many if not most of those who believe that corporations aren't persons are strongly pro-union, especially when it comes to union financing of political campaigns through direct candidate donations, and through money donated to PACs.

But wait. "Aren't unions also formed and corporations?" no one ever bothered to ask. They are, and thus another hole in the curtain of logic is revealed.

Michael Haz said...

as, not and.

Sevesteen said...

The more we have government involved, the more social programs become mandatory the more we will have situations like this. I'm a pro-choice atheist, but for a number of reasons don't think Hobby Lobby should have to provide any health insurance to employees, let alone a plan that covers birth control methods against the morals of the owners--and calling their morals religion shouldn't give them greater weight than my morals.

Fr Martin Fox said...


You make an interesting point:

Does the provision of the First Amendment, referring to the "free exercise" of religion, apply to people who aren't "religious," yet they have moral and ethical principles that shape their choices as well?

Again, I'm not an attorney, but -- my sense is that when it comes to the Establishment Clause, the courts have construed religion tightly -- i.e., they don't view government expressing moral values as an "establishment of religion"; but I'm not so clear about the Free Exercise Clause.

I'd be inclined toward a broader interpretation -- which would benefit you. But I wouldn't favor doing the same with the Establishment Clause, because I think that would be anarchic. I may be inconsistent here!

Bob said...

"Social justice attorney."

"All are welcome in this court" would be the tune of the day, I guess.

On the way to work I was thinking, if one wants to read really good, solid social justice stuff, try the Gospels, the lives of the saints, or writings of the Church Fathers.

Who'd a thunk it?

Whilst I was a seminary student, we were shown a film about the four missionary women who were raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980. It was very, very difficult to watch.

I think it's important to know what happened to these women, and that it happens all the time, and I also think we should honor not only these women and their work for those in need, but we should honor them as persons made in God's image and likeness.

That said, I'm sick and tired of the fact that the three sources I suggested above are seldom, if ever, used as good examples of social justice. Social justice has become a buzz word and a hot button word, which in the end does a great disservice to the people social justice advocates claim to advocate, not to mention a disservice to the Church.

Too often have there been social justice thugs who disparage anyone who has a different bent of mind than these folks who consider themselves a magisterium unto themselves. Don't even get me started on the God knows how many priestly vocations that were turned into dog dirt at our seminary "back in the day."

Jennifer said...

"Social justice attorney." What a big joke! She is a self-promoting activist. But she will probably never admit this, not even to herself.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Yes, I could write a post just on the implications of that title. Usually attorneys' job titles make clear how they earn their keep: they write contracts, they litigate, they handle marital dissolutions, etc. This job title, not so much, eh?

Also, in the article I linked we learn she's a candidate for the state legislature. She briefly was talked about as a congressional candidate; no doubt someone said, no, too early.

In any case, I have little doubt that her melodramatic appearance before Congress, crying about how tough it was attending an elite university and having the terrible burden of obtaining, and paying for, her contraceptives herself, was all just a set-up for career, probably including politics.

That she was from a Catholic (supposedly) university was not an accident, but part of the design.

Jennifer said...

I knew a lot of girls just like her from my law school days. But they would get mad if you called them girls! lol