The Affordable Care Act is once again under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court; this time, opponents are going after the so-called “birth control mandate.” Normally, the story would be on whether or not it actually infringes on the rights of religious groups and individuals who view contraception, specifically ones that work after conception in this case, to be an affront to their religious beliefs. What makes this latest Supreme Court hearing so controversial is that corporations are claiming they have a right to religious freedom.
While business owners and investors certainly do have such rights under the US Constitution, this latest case could take the treatment of corporations as individuals under the Citizens United decision to a completely new level of ridiculousness. It is important to recognize all businesses, whether sole proprietorships or corporations, are considered legal entities separate from their owners, thus the rights of the owners cannot extend to the businesses, even if the owner claims business revenue as personal income. In truth, the Law has often failed to properly distinguish between individual rights and corporate rights, i.e. there is no Bill of Rights for corporations and sometimes they are treated as people under certain laws, but this is a technical distinction that only lawyers would seek to exploit, not a reality that can be legitimately upheld in the real world.
Quite frankly, corporations are not people, thus they cannot be treated as people under the Law. Doing so undermines the legitimacy of our legal systems and forces the Law to balance the rights of corporations with individuals. Because religion is an explicit right in the US Constitution, the claim that corporations have this right means their religious freedom likely trumps the right to birth control and other medical treatments as well as other human concerns. The existence of a corporation is not equal to the life of a person, thus any legitimate legal system cannot treat a corporation as an individual and a corporation’s interests cannot trump a person’s wellbeing.
In truth, there is an even more legitimate argument to be made for treating animals and plants as people; at least, they are alive. As such, we must ask under this truly bizarre reasoning if companies like Tyson Foods are committing genocide. Of course, this also forces us to recognize people can be punished for crimes like murder, but corporations cannot go to jail. This means the Supreme Court could be creating a special class of citizens immune to just legal action, yet entitled to every freedom and right of every human citizen. Given the Supreme Court’s senseless interpretation of the Law and its failure to recognize the long-term, broader implications of its attempt to bridge holes in the Law, it is time for Congress to act by explicitly defining corporations as not people.