Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on the much publicized Hobby Lobby case - a case involving a question about whether or not the First Amendment protects incorporated for-profit businesses from having to provide contraceptive coverage to employees as part of their health plans. Supporters of Hobby Lobby argue that a business has "religious" rights just like an individual does, and thus shouldn't be 'forced' to do anything that they feel violates their religious beliefs. Opponents of Hobby Lobby argue that any entity that has voluntarily chosen to incorporate as a business should not be able to supersede Federal law by claiming "religious" objection.
Early in the hearing, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan offered some very pointed questions which implied what the impact of a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby might be:
Justice Sotomayor started by asking, if corporations can object on religious grounds to providing contraception coverage, could they also object to vaccinations or blood transfusions? Paul Clement, the lawyer representing the challengers, said that contraception is different, because the government has already given an exemption to religious nonprofits. Justice Kagan then said that there are several medical treatments to which some religious groups object, and if corporations could object to providing coverage for those treatments, “everything would be piecemeal. Nothing would be uniform.”
Indeed, it would seem that either (a) incorporated for-profit businesses can supersede Federal laws by claiming religious objection, or (b) they can't. If a middle ground was forged between those two options, it would almost certainly include a Governmental entity picking and choosing which religions and which for-profits companies get to do so, and when.
We could, he noted, “simply say that it’s in this type of Chapter S Corporation that is closely held. Whether it applies in the other situations is—is a question that we’ll have to await another case when a large publicly traded corporation comes in and says, we have religious principles, the sort of situation, I don’t think, is going to happen.”
There appear to be three glaring and obvious issues with such a statement. First, there are more than 4 million S-corporations in America. So, it's not as if we're talking about only a small handful of such businesses that could make such a claim. And some of the largest companies in America are "closely held" S-corporations - Dell and Heinz for example. A ruling such as Justice Roberts describes wouldn't require a different case to be brought in order to determine if "large publicly traded corporations" would have the same "religious" rights as Hobby Lobby - a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would automatically grant corporations such as Dell and Heinz the same ability to supersede Federal law due to "religious" objection.
Second, Justice Roberts laments the belief "I don't think this is going to happen". He seems to imply that he knows setting the kind of precedent such a ruling would set could create quite a conundrum if a larger company comes in and makes the same claim, but Roberts believes "it isn't likely to happen". That seems like extremely flimsy logic to float such an influential precedent on.
Third: such a ruling settles nothing, and it creates EXACTLY the kind of situation outlined above: one where a Governmental entity would repeatedly be left to determine which religious beliefs are legitimate, which for-profit companies get to claim them, and when. This is an untenable position.
Further, it seems strange Justice Roberts would say a 'narrow ruling' could be made specific to S-corporations. Incorporating a business is incorporating a business - C or S class is wholly irrelevant to the fact that the business has voluntarily chosen to incorporate, and thus voluntarily chosen to take on the responsibilities expected of corporations.
The simple answer to the court case appears to be: not allowing any for-profit company to claim religious beliefs as a way to supersede Federal Law. This appears to be the only answer which satisfies what the First Amendment actually says about Government and religion, which is this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
Nothing about the "contraception mandate" prohibits individuals from exercising their religion freely. For example, David Greene is free to practice his religion as he sees fit - he's free to avoid using contraception and he's free to tell his family and friends whatever he wants about contraception. For that matter, he's free to tell his employees what he wants about contraception as well. However, the Federal Government asserting on a case by case basis which "religious beliefs" can be used to supersede Federal Law and which can't would be a direct example of "respecting the establishment of religion".
Of course, when the Supreme Court contains Justices that are directly involved in fundraising for one specific ideology and includes Justices that say things like 'we'll have to await another case when a large publicly traded corporation comes in and says, we have religious principles, the sort of situation, I don't think, is going to happen'........ well, then anything can happen~