Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Faith of Corporate "Persons"

Corporations are people.

Increasingly, this seems to be where our jurisprudence is headed, and that's gotten a bump in the last week.  Hobby Lobby, a chain of stores selling arts and crafts, has been resisting mandates to provide emergency contraception/IUD coverage in its health care plan, on the grounds that it violates its religious freedom.  

Not the freedom of its owners, mind you.  Its religious freedom as a corporation.

According to the Hobby Lobby wiki, its operating principles involve "...honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles."

Whether or not one can make any meaningful case against interuterine devices from Biblical principles is another post for another time.

What struck me hardest about this issue was a quote from Appeals Court Judge Tim Tymkovich, writing in the opinion that affirmed Hobby Lobby's right to deny coverage:
"We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation's political expression but not its religious expression."
Obviously, this references Citizens United, the recent SCOTUS decision that affirmed constitutional protections for corporations as persons.  But as "persons of faith?"

Here, I'll admit to being a bit baffled.  Corporations, as faithful "persons?"  As religious "people?"

Can a corporation be baptized, or stand accountable before God as you or I stand before God?  Does TitleMax sneak into the back pew, and weep quietly when you preach about God's judgment on those who prey on the poor?  I don't think so.

And yet, as I think this, I consider other possibilities.  Like, say, that the Bible does make space for some degree of corporate and collective judgment. Lord knows Israel messes up collectively on repeated occasions throughout the Tanakh, and is judged for it.  I am also aware...particularly as a pastor...that groups do have their own peculiar form of spirituality.  Churches have their own characters, their internal zeitgeist, as do many other collective institutions.  And they can certainly worship together, and pray, and sing.

Then on the other hand, really?  A person?  If a board of directors or CEO decides to sell or dissolve or close a corporation, do we protect its integrity as a person, or do we view it as an object that can be sold or destroyed with no moral hazard?

And if a corporation commits a crime of negligence or predation, do we collectively punish it and all of those who participate in it?  We do not.  The LLC corporate structure exists primarily as a construct to avoid liability.  If so, how can it reflect moral agency?  How can it have a "soul?"

Ultimately, corporations are a human legal construct.  They have no reality outside of that which we give them.  They are not aware.  They are not sentient.  They are not made in the image of God.  They are objects of our own creation.

And when we confer personhood to an object made with our own hands, and allow that object to have power over us, standing as if it were another soul in our midst?  The Bible does have a word for that.