Thursday, March 27, 2014

The gospel of the corporate church

On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the latest challenge to President Obama's tragically flawed Affordable Care Act. The antagonist this time was Hobby Lobby, the chain of craft stores, who challenged the law's mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.

To set the stage for yesterday's challenge, the Obama administration exempted churches and faith-based non-profits from the contraceptive mandate. That fight opened the door for for-profit companies to try to avoid the mandate.

Hobby Lobby is a closely-held corporation whose main owners are over-the-top superstitious devoutly religious. They are opposed to abortion and believe that the IUD and the so-called morning after pill are abortions by a different name. They sought to challenge the mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

Now, before we go any further, I find it quite interesting that the first justification any group seeking to limit the rights of others is religion. That was the justification for the proposed law in Arizona that would give business owners the right to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. You see it wasn't because there are a bunch of bigots living in the desert, it's because they are all such devout Christians that they feel the need to discriminate against those who don't believe as they do.

Hobby Lobby's argument is that the law infringes upon the religious freedom of the corporation. Nevermind the fact that if Hobby Lobby had its way it would be forcing the religious beliefs of its owners on its employees. Apparently that's perfectly acceptable for the bible-thumpers.

There are three points that stick out in those arguments. The first is that religion serves primarily to divide people. Sure, we're fed the line that religion brings us all together but that belief couldn't be farther from the truth. Religion creates an us-against-them dynamic everywhere it's practiced. Christians engage in holy wars against Muslims. Muslims and Jews fight over miles and miles of sand. Catholics and Protestants argue about who's right and who's wrong. And bigots hold their bibles high in the air and argue in favor of segregation, racism, intolerance and prejudice. Oh, and pass the plate while you're at it.

The second point is the notion that corporations are people. Yes, the Supreme Court held in a 19th century case that a corporation is an artificial person for legal purposes. That ruling allows corporations to sue, and be sued, and allows the government to tax their profits. But corporations can't vote (though it is permissible after the Citizens United case for corporations to buy elections). And, I would argue, since a corporation is business structure in which multiple shareholders own the company and share in the decision-making and the profit-taking, and not a person, it is impossible for a corporation to be superstitious religious. Therefore, since a corporation is not a corporeal being capable of having beliefs, a corporation has no First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

My final point is this case, and the others that will follow, point out the reason the ACA is doomed to failure. The use of private employers and insurance companies as delivery devices for health care coverage is an idea that will never provide health care coverage for everyone. Health care is a human right and should not be conditioned upon one's ability to get a job or pay an insurance company for coverage. The decision to use that model will continue to fuel lawsuits against various portions of the law for years to come. Access to health care should have been severed from employers and insurance companies.

The only way to guarantee universal coverage is to eliminate the profit motive from the delivery system. As it stands right now, your health care options are dictated by bean counters sitting in the corporate suites of the health insurance companies and for-profit hospitals. Those decisions have everything to do with profits and nothing to do with your health.

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