In the contraceptive mandate case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby-argued Tuesday, March 25th-the government asserts that corporations can't exercise religion because they're not people – and that the people who own corporations can't exercise religion through them because they aren't corporations. Did you follow that? Me neither. But it's true.
As a result, I expect many more people creating their own LLCs in order to do things that would be wrong for them to do as individuals: "It wasn't me, honey -- it was the corporation!"
I kid. But the government isn't kidding: it's demanding that Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, pay half a billion dollars a year for not covering four emergency contraceptives in its insurance plan. Just to be clear, the government has for political reasons exempted innumerable plans providing these and other drugs (to keep the President's promise that "if you like your plan, you can keep it"). But accommodate the Green family's faith-based moral objections? No way.
Even if we disagree with the Greens about emergency contraceptives, we should be thrilled they think about their business in moral terms. Working for "big box" retailers can be very stressful, but the Greens' faith and their desire to help their employees has motivated them to do many things other similar retailers don't do, because it would hurt profits. For example, the Greens keep their stores open just 66 hours a week; they close on Sundays; they start their employees at nearly double the minimum wage -- and oh yes, they provide stellar health care.
The Greens are not unique - many other major businesses also think about what they do in moral terms. CVS Pharmacy stopped selling tobacco because it was "the right thing to do." Google's informal corporate motto is "don't be evil." The government applauds these decisions when it agrees with them. But when it comes to the Greens and Hobby Lobby, it says there's no moral decision-making going on.
What are we to make of this? By the government's logic, no one has any moral responsibility for what American corporations do. But businesses make moral decisions all the time, and in a country as generally religious as this one, some business owners are of course going to look to their faith to tell them how to "not be evil." Even if we disagree with them about what that means, we cannot deny the reality of what they're doing: taking moral responsibility for their business' actions.
If you think all this sounds biased, it is. I've spent the better part of my adult life trying to get business leaders to think more deeply about the moral implications of their professional decisions. I've done this because I've studied history, and I know that men like William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against slavery and Hitler. When their governments demanded they keep their moral thinking and religion out of public life, they refused. Their Christian faith encouraged them to stand against evils the rest of their society tolerated. If we want to see American businesses protect the environment, advance racial tolerance, and address income inequality, we should cheer more moral reflection by business leaders, not less. And we should boo and hiss loudly at the government's contention that neither the Greens nor the companies they own can exercise their religion when it comes to their business.