• Corporations are Catholic Too?

    In Citizens United, the Supreme Court extended First Amendment free speech rights to corporations. But what about the religious clauses of the First Amendment. Do corporations have First Amendment religious rights? Can corporations be Catholics too?

    A federal court in Michigan thinks they might (Legatus v. Sebelius, 2012 WL 5359630, Oct. 31, 2012). The ACA requires insurance plans to cover certain minimum services, which include contraception for women. An employer sued in Michigan, claiming a violation of religious freedom.

    Weingartz Supply Co. is owned by Daniel Weingartz, a practicing Catholic. His company is a secular company selling outdoor power equipment, so it does not qualify for the “religious employer” exception in the ACA regulations (76 FR 46,623). Since the company employs more than 50 people, the company will be subject to a penalty if it fails to offer qualifying coverage.

    The district court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the company against the federal government, opening the door to secular corporate assertions of First Amendment religious rights, perhaps derived from the owners:

    It appears to the court that, although it is first impression for this Circuit, a strong case for standing, at least on a Stormans pass-through instrumentality theory, is sustainable.

    Weingartz Supply Co. was founded as a family business and remains a closely held family corporation. Accordingly, the court need not, and does not, decide whether Weingartz Supply Co., as a for-profit business, has an independent First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. For the purposes of the pending motion, however, Weingartz Supply Co. may exercise standing in order to assert to the free exercise rights of its president, Daniel Weingartz, being identified as “his company.”

    Even the narrower “instrumentality” theory would permit any closely held company to assert religious rights under the First Amendment, derived from their owners. The court granted the injunction, allowing the company to not comply with the contraception rule pending the final resolution of this suit on the merits.

    h/t Lance Gable


    • One of the problems with employer based health care has to do with confidentiality. The reason why a person needs BCP’s is really none of the employer’s busiess. Having to meet the religious needs of the employer violates the privacy and freedom both of choice and religion of the employee..

      American exceptionalism again!

    • Rightfully so. It is not a good idea to force people to pay for things that they are strongly morally opposed to without very strong reasons and there are not strong reasons for others to pay for birth control and abortion.

      BTW Birth control pills should be available without prescription this should increase availability and reduce expenses for the user.

      • Why, exactly, should we privilege a religious opinion? And why exactly should the government impose one particular opinion? How exactly does that square with our Constitution?

        I can think of strong reasons to pay for birth control and abortion. Childbirth is risky for women, so they both save lives and improve the economic conditions of women in general. I can’t think of good reasons to oppose them beyond religious opinion.

        Birth control and abortion are medical devices, medications, and procedures. Their use should be decided via medically appropriate reasons. Allowing religious opinion to dictate what medicine can and cannot do is really bad policy and will not improve outcomes.

        In understand the desire not to have to pay for things I am morally opposed to without very strong reasons. But I don’t claim I shouldn’t have to pay my taxes. And some of the things the US does with them are certainly worse than paying for abortion and birth control.

      • You may find it wrong to force someone to pay for treatment they find morally objectionable. However, that seems like you are boiling down ethics to simply cost. If it doesn’t cost anything, then it is alright to mandate?

        What about a company owner that is a Christian Scientist? Does that mean he or she can deny heathcare to their employees until they first explore prayer as a means of healthcare?

        Yes, I agree with others here that there are fundamental problems with having employers provide healthcare for their employees (cost, effectiveness, ect.). However, knowing that this is the system we are likely to have in the immediate future we need to acknowledge that this is the way many people get their healthcare. Furthermore, I seriously doubt that people choose their place of employment for that company’s stance on social issues.

    • I still grapple with the logical difference between requiring an employer to pay for a comprehensive plan that may or may not result in the employer paying for contraceptives (depending on whether an employee decides to seek a prescription) vs. exempting religious employers from this coverage–when those employers still pay wages that may or may not be used to purchase birth control out-of-pocket. What makes health care dollars functionally different from wage dollars?

    • Yet another reason to move away from employer provided health care. I agree we can’t get there right away, but the sooner we can then the less the religious convictions of employers will matter to the health care of their employees.

      If this stands we will all need to ask what kind of insurance an employer offers before taking a job. Insurance that is less than comprehensive could easily come as a nasty shock to new employees.

    • Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this text box to compose a complete account. However, if I were to do so, it would follow this sort of outline:

      1) All rights imply conjugate obligations.

      2) This country is supposed to value religious freedom

      3) There is nothing resembling a consensus (pro or con) on contraception

      4) Therefore, this country’s institutions must not interfer with those who chose to practice contraception

      5) Rightly or wrongly, employer paid health care is currently the only viable option in this country.

      6) Therefore witholding contraception from an employer health plan is a violation of religious freedom.

      7) Therefore, the State should penalize those employer health plans which do not cover contraception.

    • As an aside, does the Weingartz plan include an FSA? Is it possible for an FSA to exclude contraceptive? Is Weingartz aware that FSA’s are considered insurance, and if an employee who has obtained payment for a contraceptive thru an FSA terminates with a negative balance Weingartz will have ended up paying for it?

    • I wonder how the whole instrumentality theory squares with limited liability? It seems a bit of a dodge to suggest that the company is an extension of the boss when it comes to birth control pills, but if the it crashes and burns leaving behind debts or liability or whatever that same boss can just walk away free….

      • @ aidian – that is a clever legal question. The instrumentality theory completely ignores corporate existence & limited liability.