Can a Corporation Exercise Religion?
Room 120, Yale Law School
Caroline M. Corbin
Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law
Author of “The Contraception Mandate” in Women and the Law (2013) and “Expanding the Bob Jones Compromise” in Accommodation and Its Legal Limits: Legal Responses to Religious Practices in the United States (2012)
Former General Counsel, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Former Louisiana Solicitor General
Corporations can’t be baptized. They can’t attain Nirvana. They can’t complete the Hajj. Corporations can, however, proselytize, prepare food products according to religious dietary laws, and let religious commitments inform which benefits they will provide to employees. But what happens when a generally applicable law requires a corporation to act in a way that is opposed to some religious norms or beliefs? Can corporations take advantage of protections under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Does the answer to this question turn on whether the corporation is non-profit or whether it has a religious mission? If the company’s mission is relevant, just how religious must it be, and who is in a position to make such a determination? Can corporations claim the free exercise rights of their owners, i.e., as one judge put it, can owners “have their corporate veil and pierce it too”?
These are some of the questions raised by Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. These cases deal with for-profit corporations whose owners do not want to comply with regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act that require companies to provide employees with health insurance covering certain forms of contraception. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in these cases on March 25, and now Professor Corbin and Mr. Duncan will join us to discuss some of the fascinating questions at the heart of this debate. Don’t miss this exciting conclusion to this year’s Debating Law & Religion Series!
Briefs and lower court opinions may be found by following these links: