[Los Angeles Times]
Are secular, for-profit corporations free to violate the rights of their employees by claiming that the law violates their corporate religious conscience? That’s the big question at the heart of the two blockbuster challenges to a key provision of Obamacare that will be heard by the Supreme Court next week. In its 225-year history, the Supreme Court has never held that secular, for-profit corporations are entitled to the free exercise of religion. It should not start now.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood claim in their lawsuits that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health insurance plans cover preventive care for women, including the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, violates their right to the free exercise of religion. Houses of worship and other religiously affiliated employers already are entitled to a religious accommodation. Some secular businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, claim that they too exercise religion and should be exempted from the obligation to pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees.
Corporations have a number of constitutional rights, mostly connected to property rights and commerce, but the free exercise of religion has never been one of them. The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty always has been seen as a personal right, inextricably linked to the human capacity to express devotion to a god and to act on the basis of reason and conscience.