Corporate Disestablishment

60 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2019

Date Written: 2019


Across the American economy, the wall between church and company is crumbling. Businesses large and small have taken on religious identities and now conduct their corporate affairs according to religious principles. The Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that for-profit corporations are eligible to claim religious exemptions from general laws, added significant legal momentum to this emerging cultural phenomenon.

In the wake of Hobby Lobby, scholars concerned about the expansion of corporate religion have searched in vain for coherent limiting principles. Drawing on an underexplored set of cases in which employees claim that companies have impermissibly imposed religion, this Article identifies such principles. It argues — on both doctrinal and normative grounds — that values of conscience, non-domination, and mutual respect work in tandem to constitute the outer boundaries of corporate religion. These values, in turn, mirror norms central to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, making a parallel case for “corporate disestablishment.” The idea of corporate disestablishment reflects structural similarities between political and private governments and clarifies the proper relationship between religion and business in a diverse modern economy.

Suggested Citation

Nelson, James David, Corporate Disestablishment (2019). Virginia Law Review, Vol. 105, No. 3, 2019, Available at SSRN:

James David Nelson (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

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