Corporate Religious Liberty: Why Corporations Are Not Entitled to Religious Exemptions
American Constitution Society Issue Brief, January 2014
14 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014
Date Written: January 23, 2014
One of the main questions before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius is whether large for-profit corporations are entitled to religious exemptions under the Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In particular, the plaintiffs seek religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “contraception mandate.”
This is an entirely novel claim. It is also without merit. The Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect the religious practices of individuals and churches. They do not, and should not, extend to the for-profit corporate form for at least three reasons. First, corporate religious liberty makes no sense as free exercise is understood to (a) protect an individual’s relationship with the divine and (b) respect the inherent dignity of the individual. Furthermore, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission provides no theoretical foundation for corporate religious liberty: The justifications for extending free speech protection to for-profit corporations do not translate into the free exercise context. Second, there is no precedent for the claim that for-profit corporations are entitled to religious liberty exemptions; on the contrary, precedent points in the other direction. Third, recognizing corporate religious liberty will benefit employers at the expense of their employees, who risk losing protection of the employment laws as well as their own free exercise rights.
Keywords: Free Exercise, RFRA, contraception, ACA, health care, employment, corporations, reproductive rights, women
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