Steven J. Willis (University of Florida, Fredric G. Levin College of Law) has posted Taxes and Religion: The Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Cases. The abstract follows.
Beginning in 2013, the federal government mandates that general business corporations include contraceptive and early abortion coverage in employee health plans. Internal Revenue Code Section 4980D imposes a substantial excise tax on health plans violating the mandate. Indeed, for one company – Hobby Lobby – the expected annual tax is nearly one-half billion dollars. Dozens of “for profit” businesses have challenged the mandate on free exercise grounds, asserting claims under the First Amendment as well as under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
So far, courts have been reluctant to hold corporations have religious rights
of their own; as a result, standing of a corporation to assert the religious
beliefs and rights of owners has become the primary issue in the twenty-six
separate cases moving through the courts. Courts are split on whether to grant standing; however, a large majority has used a variation of relational or associational standing to grant preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the tax.
This article discusses the relationship of morality and religion to general
business corporations. It concludes that over the past few decades, movements for social justice and corporate social responsibility have intertwined business corporations and moral issues, blurring the line between religion and commerce. It also concludes that courts should permit associational standing for closely-held corporations – particularly those electing S status for tax purposes – if the owners have unanimous (or near-unanimous) beliefs.
You should make the time to read Rob Vischer’s new piece, Do For-Profit Businesses Have Free Exercise Rights? One interesting feature of the paper is Rob’s engagement with the First Amendment institutionalism literature. He makes the case for some line drawing, in his usual careful and thoughtful way. Here is the abstract:
Americans are understandably troubled by the prospect of Wal-Mart and the First Presbyterian Church as conceptually identical free exercise claimants. As an expanding array of for-profit businesses sue to block enforcement of the HHS contraception mandate, there is a danger that our failure to distinguish them will weaken the protections for all institutional free exercise claimants. Except for some still largely uncontroversial questions of internal church governance, the “moral bedrock” of religious liberty is increasingly contested when invoked by institutions. Absent some categorical distinctions, we risk what Fred Schauer and others have called “institutional compression” through a process “of leveling down rather than leveling up.” Nevertheless, in the wake of Citizens United, courts may decide not to embrace potential paths of distinction. If the identity of the speaker doesn’t matter for purposes of free speech, it is tempting to say that the identity of the actor doesn’t matter for purposes of free exercise.
Foreclosing a for-profit business’s standing to raise free exercise claims entirely is not justified. However, in light of the differences between corporate political speech and corporate religious exercise, and in light of the enormous market power wielded by for-profit businesses in the provision of essential goods and services, including the paths by which to earn a livelihood, a court would be justified in interpreting free exercise doctrine to reflect institutional distinctions.
Ronald J. Colombo (Hofstra U. School of Law) has posted The Naked Private Square. The abstract follows.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, America witnessed the construction of a “wall of separation” between religion and the public square. What had once been commonplace (such as prayer in public schools, and religious symbols on public property) had suddenly become verboten. This phenomenon is well known and has been well studied.
Less well known (and less well studied) has been the parallel phenomenon of religion’s expulsion from the private square. Employment law, corporate law, and constitutional law have worked to impede the ability of business enterprises to adopt, pursue, and maintain distinctively religious personae. This is undesirable because religious freedom does not truly and fully exist if religion expression and practice is restricted to the private quarters of one’s home or temple.
Fortunately, a corrective to this situation exists: recognition of the right to free exercise of religion on the part of business corporations. Such a right has been long in the making, and the jurisprudential trajectory of the courts (especially the U.S. Supreme Court), combined with the increased assertion of this right against certain elements of the current regulatory onslaught, suggests that its recognition is imminent.