Do you remember back in 2008, when Sarah Palin was asked which Supreme Court decisions she didn’t agree with other than Roe v. Wade, and she couldn’t think of any? I remember it became sort of a game among some of us: as ordinary citizens who were not running for the second highest public office in the country, how many Supreme Court decisions could we think of that we didn’t agree with? I came up with about half a dozen right off the top of my head. Dred Scott, obviously. Plessy v. Ferguson. Bowers v. Hardwick. Bush v. Gore. (Chime in with your own in the comments!)
And — very importantly, so important that I would rank it as one of the most disastrous events in our country’s history, with profound and far-reaching toxic effects touching every aspect of everyone’s lives on a day-to-day basis — Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, in which the Court determined that corporations are legally people, with constitutional rights comparable to those of actual people.
And now, corporations don’t just have the right to donate as much money to political campaigns as they want to, thus entirely controlling the political process, because money equals free speech and corporations are people with the right to free speech.
They now have the right to religious freedom. With the Hobby Lobby decision, corporations don’t have to obey the law and cover birth control in their health insurance plans, if the corporation’s religious beliefs oppose it.
“The corporation’s religious beliefs.” Roll that phrase over in your head a few times.
Now, here’s the thing. An actual individual person’s right to religious freedom mostly just affects their own actions. They can wear a cross, avoid pork and shellfish, pray to Mecca five times a day. Their religious freedom doesn’t give them the right to control other people’s actions. The only exception I can think of is a parent’s rights to determine their children’s religious upbringing — and even that has limits in most states. It’s true that actual religious organizations, such as churches or synagogues or religious schools, have some rights to control what their employees and participants in their programs can do: they can hire and fire on the basis of religious ideology, demand that students adhere to a religious moral code, etc. But religious organizations have special limits and responsibilities. They can’t endorse political candidates, for one thing (not if they want to stay tax-exempt). And very importantly, they’re expected to have religion as their primary motivation — not the maximization of profit.
But a corporation’s “right” to religious freedom doesn’t only affect their own practices. A corporation’s “right” to religious freedom gives them the right to control, not only their own decisions, but the decisions of the people who work for them. The owners of Hobby Lobby now not only have the right to choose for themselves whether to use birth control — they have the right to make that decision for their employees. The Hobby Lobby decision essentially gives corporations the same rights as religious organizations — with none of the special limits or responsibilities.
You might argue that people don’t have to work for Hobby Lobby if they don’t like their policies. You might argue that Hobby Lobby employees can pay for their own birth control, separate from the health insurance provided by their employers. The problem with that is that we have a shitty economy, in which huge numbers of people are financially unstable and insecure at best. We have an antiquated health insurance system in which health care is tied, for absurd reasons rooted in obsolete historical quirks, to employment. We have a country in which “take this job and shove it” is, for huge numbers of people, simply not an option. And we have all this, again, largely because of laws and policies controlled by corporate money.
Corporations in the United States have nearly unlimited power. And with today’s Hobby Lobby ruling, corporations now have the rights of individuals, and the rights of religious organizations, and the rights of… well, of corporations. Plus they have massive wealth. And because they control the political process, they have the power to keep expanding that power. (If you think the Supreme Court is beyond the reach of corporations — think about who appoints and approves them.) They have nearly unlimited power. They have the power to keep expanding that power. And they are required by law to maximize their self-interest over all other concerns.
Does that seem like a good idea?
There is a serious movement happening to amend the Constitution and overturn corporate personhood. Please support Move to Amend and Wolf PAC: sign their petitions, support the organizations, and spread the word. And obviously: Boycott Hobby Lobby.