State and Local Legal Blog

Do corporations have religious liberty rights? | March 13, 2014

There are about 50 lawsuits currently challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by raising an explicit question:  must a corporation be forced to support abortion drugs, contraception and sterilization?  These plaintiffs are contending that, just as corporations have a right to free speech (remember Citizens United?), they also have religious liberty rights and, resultingly, should be able to deny medical services to their employees if these services are objectionable to the corporate owner’s religious beliefs.

Clay Calvert, a 1st Amendment expert employed by the University of Florida, was quoted in the June 2013 ABA Journal:  “The raft of ACA cases raises the specter of doctrinal inconsistency within First Amendment jurisprudence between freedom of expression and freedom of religion….If Citizens United means that secular, for-profit corporations possess the right to freely express political points of view by spending money, then at first glance it seems to follow that such corporations also possess the right to freely exercise religious beliefs by refraining from spending money….[but] there is nothing historically that would require merging or blending the free speech and free exercise clauses on the question of whether corporations are treated like human beings.”

There are any number of cases being followed:  Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc.; Grote Industries; Hobby Lobby, to name a few.

Korte attorney says: “The 7th Circuit…determined that the corporate form did not prevent the Kortes and their company from asserting their free-exercise claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act…Collectively, I hope the courts will find RFRA at a minimum applies and that for-profit companies who can establish a substantial burden of their religious freedom rights shall prevail.  It is the public policy of the State of Illinois that individuals and corporations have rights of conscience.”  (K&J is a corporation operating in Highland, Illinois.)

What does the other side say?  Tune in on Thursday.

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