Over the last several years, we have seen a steady escalation of businesses asserting rights and privileges which are normally reserved for individuals. A number of years ago, that extended into the realm of freedom of speech, and other areas where corporations are gradually asserting the same rights and freedoms as individual citizens as well.
The most recent example of this popped up in the form of a company called "Hobby Lobby" making a big fuss about providing contraceptive access through its health care benefits. What is interesting here is that Hobby Lobby is a sizeable company, and yet it is making this objection based on the company president's personal beliefs.
I can appreciate that the owners of the company have specific beliefs that they hold very deeply. However, when they are making decisions of this nature, they are effectively imposing their beliefs and morality on their employees who may or may not share the same set of beliefs. While the sole proprietor of a company may make such decisions without affecting the rights and freedoms of others, this is not the case with Hobby Lobby. Instead, what we have is the owners of the company claiming that their companies have the same rights as they do with respect to religious beliefs:
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Mardel Inc. and their owners, the Green family, argue for-profit businesses — not just religious groups — should be allowed to seek an exception if the law violates their religious beliefs. The owners approve of most forms of artificial birth control, but not those that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg — such as an IUD or the morning-after pill.There's a problem here. How can a business claim to have "religious beliefs"? Last I checked, the people who run a business can worship as they see fit, but I cannot see for a minute how an abstract entity such as a business can be held to have such beliefs. A company ultimately exists to transact business - no more, and no less than that.
While the ownership of a company may well set policies within the company which are in line with their personal beliefs, it is more than a bit of a reach to assert that the company itself has those personal beliefs. It is an even greater reach to assert that a company has the right to assert that it is protected in holding such beliefs.
Today, another dimension of the Hobby Lobby story came to light:
Having heard this, and always wanting to be certain of what I write about, I just called the Marlboro hobby lobby and asked whether it would be stocking any Chanukah merchandise. I was told it would not. When I asked why, the answer - verbatim - was:
"Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he's a Christian, and those are his values"
FYI, I would guess that, in a five mile radius around that Marlboro store, a solid one-third of all residents are Jewish. But, then again, what is the difference? Since the reason Hobby Lobby won't sell Chanukah goods is unrelated to how many Jews are in the area, it wouldn't matter if the percentage were higher or lower.
The reason is that Mr. green's Christian "values" preclude him selling anything related to a Jewish holiday - not just Chanukah, but Passover too, based on the call I just made to corporate headquarters.
I have a great many Christian friends and acquaintances. And I can honestly say that I don't know even one who would ever see excluding Jews as having anything to do with Christian "values". But, evidently, Hobby Lobby owner David Green does.While there could be a legitimate business reason for not stocking material related to a particular holiday, it seems interesting that the reason given here is Mr. Green's alleged "Christian values". I think that this tells us more about the motivations behind Hobby Lobby's demands in court.
At the end of the day, a Corporation is still a business. Commercial transactions carried out in a business are quite apart from the religious convictions of the people who work in the context of a business. For example, as an atheist, I might personally find it ridiculous to sell religious texts in a bookstore. However, I have no right to refuse to sell those books as a member of the store's staff.
Similarly, though, the business has no right to insist that I purchase one of those texts for myself. To do so would be a clear case of the business infringing upon my personal freedoms. This applies whether we are talking about transactions in the context of the daily conduct of business with customers, or the business of hiring employees who work in the company's facilities.
Businesses exist within the broader context of society, but they are not active parts of society. Rather, they are products of society themselves. To grant them the same rights and privileges as individual citizens creates a serious problem. Just as various "free trade" agreements have granted businesses the arbitrary right to sue a nation's government for acting in a manner which goes contrary to the company's perceived self-interest prevents a government from acting in the defence of its citizens, granting a business civil rights equivalent to those enjoyed by an individual citizen distorts the fabric of civil society.
When we allow businesses to become "full members of society", we create a situation which gives them a disproportionate say in the execution of government. Likely to the detriment of individual citizens.