Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Who Controls Corporate Culture?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Who Controls Corporate Culture?

Article excerpt

Liberals have been taken to task for their objections to the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Freedom of religion, a traditional liberal value, is seemingly under attack from progressives who want to shut down the corporation's sincere approach to its moral values. Is this a lack of respect for religious diversity? A narrow-minded pursuit of victory in the culture wars?

We believe that commentators are overlooking an important aspect of the Hobby Lobby decision, as well as the court's similarly maligned Citizens United opinion. In both cases, the court determined that a corporation could be considered a person and could therefore exercise personal rights of political speech and free exercise of religion. Even though it is a well-established legal doctrine, the idea that a corporation could be a person has come under much criticism and ridicule. But churches and other mission- oriented nonprofits enjoy these rights as "people" without controversy.

The larger problem is this: if a for-profit corporation can exercise rights, who decides how it will exercise them? State corporate laws have long dictated that shareholders exercise complete control over the corporation. Shareholders elect the board of directors and generally have rights to vote on mergers, dissolution, and other extraordinary corporate events. In a public corporation, shareholders are generally so numerous, and so swiftly shifting, that it would be impossible to assign a religious or ideological profile to the corporation that matched up with the shareholders.

Hobby Lobby, however, like other private companies, is owned by a small set of shareholders in this case, five members of the Green family. The Greens are Christians and believe that the contraceptive drugs and devices at issue would violate their faith. Because of their complete ownership of the corporation, the Green family's religious beliefs become the corporation's religious beliefs. And yet, even though Hobby Lobby is a small, closely held corporation from an ownership perspective, it is quite a large business, with 500 stores and more than 13,000 employees. Because the Greens own Hobby Lobby's shares, their religion becomes the religion for the entire company.

And Hobby Lobby is not alone. …

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