Citizens United was a US Supreme Court decision in 2010 that said corporations had free speech rights like individuals. On Friday, 12/28, judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that corporations, citing Citizens United, could have religious freedom rights like an individual. If the ruling stands or in the future the US Supreme Court agrees, then a Pandora’s box will be opened where businesses could be allowed to discriminate based on religious beliefs.
On Friday, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in an order joined by two conservative Republican appointees, temporarily immunized a company from the Obama Administration’s rules guaranteeing that employer-provided health plans cover birth control. Judge Ilana Rovner, a George H.W. Bush appointee, dissented.
The order is brief, and it mostly deals with the most significant issue in this case in just a single paragraph — holding that a for-profit corporate employer can claim that its religious liberties were somehow violated…
Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit’s citation to Citizens United is an ominous sign. Lee was decided at a time when the Court understood that corporations should not be allowed to buy and sell elections. That time has passed, and the precedents protecting against corporate election-buying were overruled in Citizens United. It is not difficult to imagine the same five justices who tossed out longstanding precedent in Citizens United doing the same in a case involving whether employers can impose their religious beliefs on their employees.
Yes if corporations are given the same religious freedom rights that individuals have there could be some serious issues for a whole host of people from gays to Muslims to atheists and anyone or any group a business owner is morally opposed to on religious grounds. Whatever those grounds are.
At the risk of Godwin’s Law, we have seen similar religious discrimination in commercial activity before such as the Anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany enacted before World War II.
Applying Citizens United to give corporations the same religious freedom individuals enjoy is a scary thought indeed.
(H/T American Secular Census)