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