Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rights, Religion and Corporations – Part 2

The first posting on this subject indicated that allocating “rights” to corporations has been a struggle since our nation’s founding! While many came to these shores seeking escape from control by large corporations [large government, large religious bodies, large businesses], there have always been temptations to cede certain ‘rights’ – especially in times of crisis.·         Lincoln, in need of assistance transporting war supplies during the Civil War, gave railroads rights of land ownership et al. This forced our government subsequently to sue the railroads to take some of those cessions back!
·         Similar grants were made when we wished railroads to open the west; when we needed manufacturing to move fast as we entered World War II; when we took on the challenge to send a man to the moon.
·         Cessions were also made when we allowed Congress to relax the rules which protected us from the avarice of large corporations or when the Court allowed corporations to dominate the electoral process.

What, though, are the issues that arise when we grant “corporate status” to denominations, parishes,  synagogues or mosques? Are those issues compounded when those religious institutions seek to assume rights normally reserved for individuals?
A.     Since “corporate status” is granted by the government [usually the state], might this open the door to state control?  Would that concern be eliminated by the first Right – the freedom from any legislation that would impact religious belief or practice?
While most voices proclaim such to be true, history is less affirmative! When the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints [now ‘Mormon’] settled in the Utah Territory they had hoped to escape from political persecutions for their beliefs. However, when the Federal government outlawed polygamy they faced serious consequences. Until they complied, their lands and temples were at risk of seizure and their citizens at risk of trial for bigamy. Finally, a “revelation from God’ enabled them to change their belief system.  [Interestingly, Congress privately assured the Roman Catholic Church that nothing similar would be done to them!]
Society’s efforts to “level” disparities in gender situations [equal pay for equal work], employment and adoption situations [limiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation], education [seeking to mandate a basic level of required education], etc. have frequently encountered opposition from certain religious groups claiming there was “no compelling interest’ of the part of government to force certain behaviors upon them.
B.     What criteria should be employed to determine an organization’s not-for-profit status?  A recent case in Illinois determined that a religious-affiliated hospital did not provide sufficient charity for exemption  from property taxes! Does every “house of worship” contribute sufficiently to the public good so as to warrant similar property tax relief?
C.     How might society protect herself from a very large religious corporation imposing beliefs upon non-members as well?  Various religious organizations with considerable wealth have attempted to force such impositions - seeking exemptions for gender bias, sexual preference bias. Permission is also sought to exert such pressures as needed to force legislation that would make certain practices illegal [abortion is but one of these] or would curtail others [teaching the validity about evolution, climate control, etc.].
Few [certainly not I] wish to allow government to disregard the first amendment. Yet, one must admit that life in the 21st century is radically different from the 18th century:

ü  We know much more regarding space, creation processes, human growth & development.

ü  We have become a much more diverse population – religiously, economically, culturaly.

ü  We live in a much larger global “society” and are impacted by what others believe and do.

ü  Denominationalism has grown to where it is no longer possible [if it ever truly was] to claim that this or that behavior is “the Christian” or “the Jewish” or “the Muslim” thing to do!

Might we not seek more avenues for discussion so that we are not only free from any Government impositions on our practice of religion – but also from any religion’s impositions on our freedom from those religious practices about which we differ?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


National and local discussions in re: requirement by the Health and Human Services agency that all health insurance plans provide birth control, raise challenging questions. These questions and issues would include:

1.   Does the Bill of Rights pertain to corporations as well as individuals? If yes, implications?

2.   What are issues if we identify Church as a corporation?

Initially I thought one posting of SYNERGY would be sufficient to reflect on both questions/issues. However, it became apparent that such would be too superficial& simplistic. Thus, I will be addressing them in multiple postings.

Challenge 1 Does the Bill of Rights pertain to corporations as well as individuals?

It is very likely that the folks founding our nation would not have assumed such pertinence. Major factors

in leaving Europe and in seeking independence from Great Britain were to assert the inalienable” rights of the individual person against large power groups i.e. church, government, business. Inalienable” means that such rights” are incapable of being transferred to another [Random House Dictionary of the English Language].

Thom Hartmann, author of Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, said that the extraordinary experiment that was the basis of American democracy in a constitutionally limited republic was to flip the historic manner of control upside down! That is large institutions had “rights”; the common people only had “privileges which could “be revoked more-or-less at will by the holders of he rights”.

Thats what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights did. Only humans could hold rights – all others [e.g. institutions] only had privileges. Further, in the first 100 years of our nation corporations could only exist for

40 years so as to prevent accumulation of such wealth as to enable them to control persons. Further, their very first purpose for existence was to serve the public! The second porpoise was to make money. Their books were to be open for inspection and their leaders could be held liable for crimes committed by the corporation.

That legal doctrine held until the end of the 18th century.

A second reason as to why the founders might not have accorded rights to corporations/large institutions was their scarcity. At the time of Independence there were only seven [7] chartered businesses – and the first

purely American industrial corporation, the Boston Manufacturing Company, was established in 1813!

However, the definite trend in our nation is to grant such rights! Nike and Sinclair Broadcasting have asserted they have First Amendment rights of free speech; Dow Chemical asserted it has Fourth Amendment privacy rights so as to refuse permission for the EPA to have surprise inspections re: pollution; J.C. Penney asserted Fourteenth Amendment rights; tobacco & asbestos companies assert Fifth Amendment rights to keep secret aspects of their products which are harmful. All but Nike were successful!

Today, legislatures and courts routinely affirm that [to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney] “corporations are people”.

Thus, the assertion by Roman Catholic Bishops and certain Evangelical groups that the demand to include birth control coverage in their health care plans violated their First Amendment Right that government shall pass no law impinging on the freedom of religion – is reflective of present-day legal reality in this nation.

The people who fled Europe sought religious freedom from the perceived tyranny of large institutions. And, the Boston Tea Party was actually a rebellion against a tax break for the East India Company They were not fighting against a tax “increase – but a decrease” which gave it an advantage over smaller shops and businesses! Thus, it was a rebellion against restoring greater control to large corporations.

That largeness or growth” hightlights the most dangerous implication when we grant personhood’ to corporations!. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights stress the importance of equality for this American experiment to work. While each of us must deal with our humanity, corporations can live for generations. Their size – now spanning many nations makes it extremely difficult for an individual to do battle. Corporations can out-spend us in campaign financing as well as election campaigns; they can employ countless attorneys to keep us at bay; and, serve such importance in jobs that few wish to upset the balance which keeps our neighbors at work!

This need for equality has always been a struggle. It is a struggle for Justice. And we dare not relax!