The Corner

Publicly Traded Corporations Don’t Have a Religion

Another hysterical shriek I am noticing about the very restrained Hobby Lobby case suggests that large corporations will now be able to opt out of all sorts of social justice regulatory and legal obligations based on asserting a faux religious belief.

Nonsense. The companies protected by the HL decision are closely held, meaning they are owned by a very few individuals. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act now has been reasonably interpreted to protect individuals from being forced by the federal government to run their businesses contrary to their religious beliefs. The ruling also says that one does not lose religious liberty protected by the statute simply by reason of owning a business.

But the situation with publicly owned corporations is far different: Those seeking protection under the RFRA must demonstrate that they hold a sincere and bona fide religious belief that is being infringed by government action. In HL, the belief of the owners was imputed to the juridical entity under which they did business. But there is no way that could be done with a large, publicly traded corporation.

Think of Google or Chevron. These companies have millions of shareholders, including institutional shareholders. Even if every member of upper management shared a faith, there would be no way to impute their religion to the juridical entity because the owners (shareholders) of the corporations are so diverse. Thus, a Google would be unable to make a case because it could not prove that its owners shared a religious belief.

The real cause of the anger is that the political left wants to shrink freedom of religion to (for now) freedom of worship. As I have written, those are very different things. The Hobby Lobby case was a very mild setback for that cause. The emotionalism exhibited by its opponents demonstrate the visceral hatred they have for religious liberty — meaning they are not civil libertarians.


Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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