Are people organized as corporations entitled to constitutional rights?
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby addressed a seemingly narrow issue: whether the Obamacare regulation requiring corporate employers to provide insurance plans that cover contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in cases where the employers in question have religious objections to some or all contraceptives. But the Court’s ruling also makes a crucial broader point: that people are not required to give up fundamental legal rights when they organize themselves into a corporate body. That principle has important implications for constitutional law. It is a vital protection for individual rights in a society where we unavoidably conduct much of our business and charitable activities by using corporate organizations.
It is indeed true that corporations are not people. But those who own and operate them are.
RFRA was enacted in 1993 with overwhelming bipartisan support. It protects religious freedom by requiring the federal government to prove that laws that “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion are the least restrictive means to protecting a “compelling” government interest. The owners of Hobby Lobby Stores and other businesses involved in the case objected to being forced to provide insurance for some forms of contraception because they belong to the small minority of Americans who believe that some or all types of artificial contraception violate the dictates of their religion.