Hobby Lobby - Taking the Corporate Veil Seriously
I was surprised to see some interesting news about Hobby Lobby this week. They've decided to ignore a court order to provide their employees coverage for contraception. Their argument is that the owners' religious objections should allow them an exemption to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). After being denied at a lower court, Hobby Lobby asked SCOTUS for an emergency injunction. It was refused and the company now faces fines of 1.3M USD per day until they are in compliance.
It's not easy to have sympathy for them. First, you would have to agree with their argument, but you would also have to agree with the way that they are handling this. When you flout a court order, you are, in essence, telling people that you have no respect for the legal system. I don't think it will end well for them.
That aside, I think there is a very simple reason why Hobby Lobby's argument doesn't hold water. Hobby Lobby is a corporation and corporations are legal persons. One of their functions is to shield shareholders from liability. That's right - shareholders. Imagine owning stock in Apple and claiming that, as a shareholder, you have religious objections to Obamacare and therefore have standing to sue the government. It might be possible in our legal system, but should it be? If we take the notion of personhood seriously enough to shield shareholders from liability, perhaps we should take it seriously in another sense also: A corporation, as an entity, does not have the religious beliefs of its shareholders. It doesn't even have the religious beliefs of its board or executives. After all, they are employees.
It's hard to see who is being treated unjustly in this case. It certainly isn't Hobby Lobby. Fictitious persons generally don't hold strong religious beliefs. Perhaps this is the price of the corporate veil.