Religious Freedom and ‘Corporations Are People” Used as Excuses for Discrimination and Financial Agendas

[ is beginning a weekly column on local, regional, and national news and events that will publish on Fridays. Statements, opinion, and views expressed in this column are those of the author named and are not necessarily those of the and Thought Process Enterprises team.]

I’m impressed by the stamina of the anti-LGBT front. Despite continually losing ground, the stalwart defenders of upright moral values always rally to draw a new line in the sand. As someone who really doesn’t care about what other people do, I can’t imagine myself being motivated enough to fight a downhill battle that’s centered on caring too much about what other people do.

In the most recent strategy, social conservatives are focusing on businesses being able to practice their religious freedom, or in more direct words, refuse service to gays. After all, if you can’t stop men from marrying men, you can at least have the satisfaction of denying them a bagel at your store.

So the Indiana senate thought when they passed Bill 101, which includes in its definition of a person “a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association or another entity…”

The bill is one of the latest in a debate over the legal nature of businesses. Are businesses people? Do they get treated as people legally?

When businesses consisted of a guy and some other guys working for him, than such a policy was practical. A business was essentially a person. The rise of big business changed society. A corporation is more than the sum of the people working for it. It’s an entity with a macro-effect across a region or the entire nation.

If John Doe’s Catering won’t serve at my wedding, I can always hire another caterer. The damage, beyond personal indignity, is minimal. If a corporation, such as Hobby Lobby, decides they can be exempt from the law on religious grounds, they’re affecting tens of thousands of people.

Indiana’s bill wasn’t about protecting individuals’ religious freedoms. It was about using vague legal concepts to empower businesses to discriminate against gays. In what other context would the bill be used for? I doubt any legislative body in the nation would want businesses to deny service to African American customers. I haven’t heard any moral objections to businesses not wanting to serve murderers and rapists.

The Indiana legislature used freedom of religion and ‘corporations are people,’ as tools in a moral crusade. That’s not what laws are for. Laws shouldn’t be dictated by morality and personal preference. Law exists to enable society to function beneficially.

The 1st Amendment gives people the right to practice their religion. If that means believing homosexuality is an abomination, than that belief is protected as long as it doesn’t infringe on the right of others to be homosexual.

Does that argument apply to businesses? The answer social conservatives are practicing, but not publicly announcing, is ‘if it serves my personal agenda,’ which is a terrible reason to pass a bill.

Last year, Hobby Lobby used this argument to fight for their right to not provide the morning after pill as part of employee health coverage. As it turns out, about three-quarters of their employee retirement funds came from companies that are against the values Hobby Lobby claimed to be for, including manufacturing drugs used in abortions. Apparently, profiting from abortions is okay with their religious values, but spending money on birth control, not so much.

I do believe people have the right to think whatever they want is a sin and apply that belief to their life. I don’t see how those rights apply to a big business. The few people in charge can’t make policies based on religious values that affect all employees, customers and shareholders.

What is needed is a more clear-cut, up-to-date policy that considers the mass effect corporations have on society and doesn’t have an underlying moral or financial agenda. A ruling that the Supreme Court can use as precedent for generations to come.

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