I saw an old pal a week ago Monday afternoon. Instead of his usual scruffy jeans and T-shirt, he was wearing a suit and tie.
“Hey, Bobby,” I called out, “what’s with the stuffy threads?”
“I have gone and incorporated myself,” he said. “I want to look like the boss.”
“But why are you hugging yourself?” I asked, still puzzled. Even bosses with a high regard for themselves don’t usually go around cuddling themselves in self-affection.
“Because I am now a closely held corporation,” he said. “As soon as the Supreme Court gives the all-clear to other for-profit corporations, I will be a regular boss – you know, telling my workers what is morally right according to my own sincerely held religious beliefs and letting my arms dangle.”
Ah, yes, the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court decision that struck a blow for religious liberty. Bosses in closely held corporations are now at liberty to impose their religious beliefs on female employees concerning contraception in their health care plans.
As Bobby explained it, the government has no compelling interest in insisting on women’s health care options under Obamacare. Of course it doesn’t, Bobby said, “Who do these women think they are? They are not the boss of us.”
Of course, Justice Samuel Alito tried to make clear that the majority opinion was very specific. He insists that it does not say that for-profit corporations can opt out of any law (except tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.
What a sense of humor that Justice Alito has! How they must have laughed in law firms across the country as they began preparing other lawsuits, realizing that the rationale used in this case could apply to Mammon Enterprises Inc. (Slogan: “Our Profit, Your Loss,” soon to be reworked as “Our Prophet, Your Loss.”)
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noticed, too, and she wasn’t laughing. Legal scholars, trained to pick up on nuances in the law others might miss, noted that she is a woman and that two other women on the court joined her in her angry dissent.
For some reason, women don’t like men or incorporated religious families telling them what to do. Typical!
Well, they will just have to get used to it, because religious bosses rule! No wonder Bobby wants to be one. Actually, when it comes to sincerely held religious beliefs, I didn’t realize he had any sincerity or beliefs until now.
But that’s the marvel of the law. If people in the form of a corporation declare they have sincere religious beliefs, the court must accept this. No questions asked!
As it happens, nobody questions the sincerely held religious beliefs of the owners of Lobby Hobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., but the sincere and the insincere can expect to get a pass, which is the problem going forward.
A slippery slope now beckons. We have already slid from the Citizens United decision, when a corporation was deemed a person for purposes of campaign funding, to now considering a corporation a pious artificial entity. What’s next for this creative legal idea that offends common sense and serves God and money?
Maybe Mr. Corporation will go to a gay wedding and refuse to take photographs or bake the cake. Maybe Mrs. Corporation will fire a worker who gets a divorce. Maybe Mrs. and Mrs. Corporation, proprietors of the Family Rest Motel, will refuse accommodations to a couple who can’t prove they are married. Maybe the Supreme Court will say this is all fine.
Justice Alito suggests it can’t happen, but who knows what might ensue when he and the boys get together on the slippery slope. Sure, in this case women can still get contraceptives if they want, but Americans have been put on notice: Your needs don’t have a prayer when someone else’s religion is the boss.
This puts me in bad position. I go to church, although I am hardly sanctimonious enough to be anyone’s boss. Also recently, I wrote a column defending the Supreme Court decision allowing prayer in municipal meetings, which with some reservations I accepted in the spirit of tolerance and religious freedom.
That was before corporations were deemed religious people and judged justified in making other people’s moral business their business. That goes too far and invites a backlash that will hurt all believers.
By the way, my pal plans to be the boss of Bobby’s Lobby, a men’s store. Of course. Sadly for women, men rule.
Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.