Do corporation dream of paper sheep?
November 26, 2013 12:52 PM   Subscribe

How does a corporation show that it "sincerely holds a belief"?

Spurred by the current Hobby Lobby case, how can a corporation believe anything, religious or otherwise? How can it demonstrate that it sincerely holds a belief as opposed to "for secular purpose"?

Or is the underlying claim as ridiculous as it seems to this non lawyer?
posted by PMdixon to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The short version is that your question is one that the Supreme Court itself will probably be asking; we can make guesses here but it would be pure conjecture. Possible answers range from "That is obviously impossible" to "That is obviously what the legal documents comprising incorporation are for" to "that is obviously whatever the Board of Directors wants to make up on the spot."
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:55 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Were I asked to argue this question, I'd say, "A corporation is made up of its owners. If the owners hold a belief and wish to apply it to the corporation, then the corporation can be said to hold that belief."
posted by Etrigan at 1:04 PM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not all the circuit courts agree: "Perhaps even more interesting is the reasoning the 6th Circuit panel used to reach its decision. According to the court's persuasive argument, it is not possible for a for-profit corporation with secular purposes to "exercise" religion in a way protected by the Constitution or federal statues." - Scott Lemieux, Secular Corporations Cannot Exercise Religion, My Friend
posted by larrybob at 1:08 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, to the extent that this is answerable it needs to be more "here's what the record of law and legal commentary has to say about this" and less "here's my personal spitballing".
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:15 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can read the briefs of the case (where this issue is addressed) on SCOTUSblog.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:17 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another 6th Circuit case involving natural foods company Eden Foods features a CEO who doesn't remember to include religious freedom in his arguments.
posted by larrybob at 1:22 PM on November 26, 2013

To answer part of your question, "How can it demonstrate that it sincerely holds a belief," I suggest you read up on B Corporations.
posted by workerant at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2013

Despite not being human beings, corporations, as far as the law is concerned, are legal persons, and have many of the same rights and responsibilities as natural people do. Corporations can exercise human rights against real individuals and the state, and they can themselves be responsible for human rights violations. They can certainly adopt formal policies, and these policies may embody beliefs. In a privately or closely held corporation, those beliefs are usually the beliefs of the owners, as is the case with Hobby Lobby.
posted by ubiquity at 1:45 PM on November 26, 2013

Although there is a legal fiction that a corporation is a person, for some purposes, the reality is that a corporation is one of several alternative ways to operate a business. A business is a human endeavor, and it is the people who work through the corporation who animate it. The courts will sometimes look to its owners, sometimes to its directors, and sometimes to its officers.

A related question is how a corporation can be guilty of a crime. It is the people who work through the corporation who act illegally, but sometimes the corporation itself can be found guilty. The punishment, however, can only be a fine.
posted by yclipse at 2:57 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check out the briefs, as melissasaurus linked to upthread.

In particular, look at pages 2 and 3 from the respondents' brief [pdf]. They go through the various affirmative actions and financial sacrifices that Hobby Lobby makes in order to maintain the ideological purity of its explicitly faith-based operation. For example:
The Greens each sign a Statement of Faith and a Trustee Commitment obligating them to conduct the businesses according to their religious beliefs and to “use the Green family assets to create, support, and leverage the efforts of Christian ministries.” JA 21a.
Look at the discussion beginning on page 10, in which the respondents walk through the side of the court split that is most favorable to them.

Also be sure to check out the relevant en banc 10th Circuit opinion. Now square that with, say, this blog post which vigorously criticizes that same opinion.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:21 PM on November 26, 2013

Response by poster: Stitcherbeast gets best answer for telling me which part of the brief to read. Thanks all!
posted by PMdixon at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2013

Check out this bit from pages 16-17 of respondents' brief:
But such questions assume even larger significance insofar as they arise under the Affordable Care Act, which imposes massive obligations on individuals and corporations alike in the process of attempting to fundamentally re-order the Nation’s health care system. See, e.g., Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, __ U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 2566, 2609, 2624 (2012) (op. of Ginsburg, J., joined by Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ.) (observing that “the provision of health care is today a concern of national dimension,” but cautioning that “[a] mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly * * * interfered with the free exercise of religion”).
Basically, Hobby Lobby are arguing that, just because they earn a profit, that doesn't mean that they can't also be participating in the free exercise of religion. They run their business according to shared religious principles. Indeed, they regularly take financial hits because they are so connected to their faith. Now, they feel that they have to choose between following their principles or earning a profit.

I don't agree with it, but there you go.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2013

it would be the beliefs of the owners, and can be evidenced by practice, testimony, or organizational docs.
posted by jpe at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2013

Would you really find it hard to understand how the ACLU can sincerely believe in civil liberties, how the Sierra Club can sincerely believe in the importance of protecting the environment, how Planned Parenthood can sincerely believe in reproductive freedom, or how a political magazine like The Nation or National Review can hold staunchly liberal or conservative beliefs (respectively)? Those are all corporations that are based on earnestly held beliefs. Now, whether you want to focus on the owners or the Board or whatever, I don't know. And I don't know anything about the substance of the case you mentioned. But it's immediately apparent that someone who isn't committed to those beliefs probably won't fit in that well working at those places, whether or not they have to go through the formality of signing a pledge. So I don't see anything counterintuitive about the idea. Are there going to be some exceptions — someone working for the ACLU who reviles civil liberties? Sure, but that actually sounds less plausible than the idea of me, as one individual, disbelieving my own supposed ideology! I probably question my own beliefs a lot more than the ACLU questions the idea of civil liberties.
posted by John Cohen at 9:21 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

John Cohen, I think the OP's question (and probable confusion) comes from the fact that Hobby Lobby's problems aren't quite about whether or not they can have sincere beliefs.

Hobby Lobby isn't just arguing that they have sincere beliefs. Nobody doubts that they hold and act upon their beliefs. They argue that they should enjoy certain legal protections because of these beliefs. However, the protections they seek are not extended to for-profit companies, let alone to for-profit companies with secular purposes, viz. chain stores selling arts and crafts. These protections are instead limited to non-profit companies with religious purposes, e.g. a religious charity which exists to spread the Gospel.

They argue that the ACA's contraceptive-coverage requirement would burden their free exercise of religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prevents the federal government from substantially burdening a person's free exercise of religion. If they could fall under RFRA's protection, then they could dodge this requirement. However, the government interprets RFRA to exclude for-profit companies. Hobby Lobby argues that this exclusion is artificial and unjust. They argue that their free exercise of religion should be protected from the ACA's requirements, no matter if they are also a for-profit company that sells arts and crafts.

Alternatively, Hobby Lobby could win if the protections of the ACA's religious employer exemption and (and related accommodation) were broadened to include companies like Hobby Lobby.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:44 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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