Corporate Personhood = Religious Freedom?

In the United States, the right to religious liberty is protected from the government by the First Amendment by two clauses: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]”

But who has the right to religious freedom? That is the war of interpretation that is being waged by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) along with a large segment of the Catholic healthcare industry against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which recently issued a decision to require comprehensive preventive healthcare for all women and girls by employers and health care providers. This comprehensive healthcare includes procedures covering all forms of birth control, emergency contraception, sterilization (such as tubal ligation), and the care and counseling that are needed with such services.

The USCCB took out a full page ad in The Washington Post on Wednesday, December 21, that proclaimed “Protect conscience rights.” The ad included the statement that “We, the undersigned, strongly support access to life-affirming health care for all[.]”  The ad continues, “[the HHS] rule will force Catholic organizations that play a vital role in providing health care and other needed services either to violate their conscience or severely curtail those services. This would harm both religious freedom and access to health care.” Finally, “[the rule] also harms society as a whole by undermining a long American tradition of respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In a pluralistic society, our health care system should respect the religious and ethical convictions of all.” The ad then lists dozens of names of those who lead Catholic hospitals, colleges, and other organizations.

The wording in this ad should give pause to anyone who believes that religious liberty belongs to the individual—and not to an organization, church, charity, or hospital. And here is why.

Each of these entities—the church, the charity, and the hospital—are corporations under law, either for- or non-profit. They are created by collections of people. This is why corporations have CONSITUTIONAL rights already, such as freedom of speech (see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010)). In fact, corporations have corporate personhood—which provides them many rights as individuals. A corporation can be sued like an individual, but as we all know most corporations have resources that outstrip the average individual.

When it comes to religious liberty, is it so farfetched that the individual right of religious liberty belongs to religious organizations and corporations? The wording in the USCCB ad seems to suggest this when it states the HHS rule will “force Catholic organizations that play a vital role in providing health care and other needed services … to violate their conscience[.]”  How easy would it be to assert that Catholic and other faith-based organizations must be given exceptions to laws because of their religious beliefs—else their collective religious freedom is being impinged on?

Here is the problem with that argument. If the government is providing taxpayer dollars to ANY organization—religious-based or not—that organization has an obligation to fulfill the full contract of services—whatever the government has required. If the organization cannot—or will not—fulfill the contract, no matter the reason, then the organization should not be accepting government funds. And the government must not accept bids for such contracts.

The individual who pays his or her taxes, who is a citizen, who has the right to the benefits of the healthcare regulations established by the government must be able to go to any healthcare facility that accepts any government funding and receive the full range of services and benefits—no exceptions.

It is the right of the individual to decide what healthcare services are or are not appropriate for his or herself. That right is severely restricted and harmed by any organization or corporation that predetermines what healthcare options are off-limits to an individual before he or she walks into, wheels into, or arrives by ambulance to a healthcare facility.

If the people who run Catholic organizations and hospitals feel so strongly that they cannot provide specific healthcare options to people who may or may not be Catholic and who may or may not share their religious beliefs, they should stop accepting government funds.

What would this mean? At least 20 percent of this country’s healthcare industry is run by Catholic corporations and organizations—and they all accept some kind of government assistance in the form of taxpayer funding. So the corporations and organizations would have to find private funds or close. The Catholic church has used this tactic to try to affect law before—a kind of blackmail: change the law to accommodate our religious beliefs or we, the Catholic church, will stop providing social or medical services.

The implication is that those the Catholic church, Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals, and other Catholic organizations help—with taxpayer funds—will now suffer: homeless shelters will close, children in foster care will have no homes, and healthcare facilities will refuse treatment or close altogether. However blackmail only works if the victim has something to lose. The Catholic church has been using this tactic now for at least the past two years. And to their credit, local and state governments and the American people have shown this tactic is powerless.

For example, in 2010, when the District of Columbia passed its marriage equality law, the Catholic Diocese threatened to terminate all Catholic social services in the city. The Diocese backed down from that threat—it receives millions of dollars in district and federal taxpayer dollars to provide social services. Instead, the Diocese terminated its foster care program. The city quickly found homes for the children with secular organizations.

A similar situation on a much larger and sadder scale occurred this year in Illinois with the passage of that state’s civil union bill. Catholic Charities of Illinois ended all foster care services in the state rather than comply with state law to accept same-sex adoptive parents. Secular foster care services were either expanded or created to take care of all of the children.

The USCCB ad says that by restricting Catholic organizations and corporations with this rule, access to healthcare will become limited. However, if Catholic organizations and corporations will not provide the services mandated by law, they must forfeit taxpayer funding. This may well break the Catholic funding juggernaut that has stymied secular and even faith-based groups that wish to provide social services but have been unable to due to the lock that Catholic organizations have on federal and state taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps in the short term healthcare options and services may be limited, but under Catholic corporations and organizations they already are automatically due to Catholic dogma. But just like with the foster care providers, once the federal and state taxpayer dollars are available to secular and faith-based organizations that do not restrict services based on the religious beliefs of the people running them, the healthcare access and the overall healthcare system in this country would improve—especially for women and girls.

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If you take the catholic argument to its logical conclusion, the church of Scientology could be entitled to federal funding for a health care facility to which they provided no doctors but simply prayed for the patients to get well.
The hush-hush of politics is controlling a segment of people without those people recognizing they are being managed. In 1789 The Constitution was established. In 1791 the Bill of Rights became the law of the land. For 95 years it was understood that 1st Amendment freedoms of speech, press and assembly were the sole rights of flesh and blood citizens. Corporations had no rights. Newspapers had the right to print because they employed people and not the other way around. "The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy." -Alex Carey, Australian social scientist who pioneered the investigation of corporate propaganda (see Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy, Univ of New South Wales, 1995) In 1886 footnotes to the Santa Clara Railroad case, written by a Supreme Court Clerk who was previously a railroad executive, became the basis for corporations claiming the same rights as flesh and blood people. Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. But politicians exempted the commercial press, because the 1st Amendment prohibits abridging their freedom of speech and the press. 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term "expenditure" does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate; But we cannot rely on the commercial press to be unbiased and provide the information we need to remain free. Both Republicans and Democrats agree the press is biased and only differ on which networks and newspapers are the culprits: A newspaper must at all times antagonize the selfish interests of that very class which furnishes the larger part of a newspaper's income... The press in this country is dominated by the wealthy few...that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people that correct information concerning political, economical and social subjects which it is necessary that the mass of people Shall have in order that they the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and chicanery of the ruling and employing classes. (E.W. Scripps). In my opinion the idea of media being objective was a marketing ploy to sell newspapers: "It was not until the 1920s that you really get the notion of professional journalists, the way we think about them today," says Michael Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "A lot of different schools of journalism started, codes of ethics were developed, the whole notion of the journalist as objective came into play .... of standing outside the story, telling both sides, of being factual rather than opinionated." If the United States Supreme Court defined freedom of religion using the same logic that campaign laws use to define a free press only the church or synagogue "as an institution" would enjoy freedom of religion, not its parishioners! "Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a "special interest" by any definition, and heavily engaged in the "issue advocacy" and "independent expenditure" realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold "reform" bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd." – Senator McConnell It is normal for all large businesses to make serious efforts to influence the news, to avoid embarrassing publicity, and to maximize sympathetic public opinion and government policies. Now they own most of the news media that they wish to influence. - Excerpt from The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian The press exemption divides participation in America’s political process into two categories: The regulated majority, every living U.S. Citizen, candidate for office, political party and political organization and the unregulated commercial media. To restore equal protection under law, the “press exemption”, 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i), should be modified to read: “The term expenditure does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed by any candidate, political party, citizen, citizens group, non-profit corporation, broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.” Every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add... artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society the farmers, mechanics, and laborers who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government. President Andrew Jackson. The 1st Amendment does not guarantee our freedoms but it does prohibit Congress from writing laws that would abridge them. The 1st Amendment was added to the Constitution because some State representatives to the Constitutional Convention feared the power of an over reaching Central Government. State Constitutions are where protections of our freedoms of speech, press and assembly are found. The 14th Amendment attempts to extend Federal protection to the Bill of Rights and in this instance is misconstrued. Only Congress can violate the 1st Amendment and the Federal Campaign Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violate the prohibitions of the 1st Amendment. Federal Campaign laws abridge freedoms of speech, press by limiting how much money individual citizens and citizens groups can donate to their candidates and issues, and they abridge freedom of assembly by declaring it a crime for candidates, political parties and grass roots organizations to coordinate their advertising campaigns. The solution to limiting corporate influence and restoring flesh and blood citizen’s control of politics is not limiting how much individuals and grass roots organizations can spend communicating. There is no Constitutional basis for making political coordination a crime? Does a candidate for office have the responsibility or authority to tell a citizen or citizens group they cannot simultaneously put out campaign materials from the candidate and a grass roots organization that supports the candidate? Where in the Constitution does participating in politics require a candidate or citizen to give up 1st Amendment freedoms of assembly and association? UNITED STATES v. ASSOCIATED PRESS - Decided June 18, 1945 It would be strange indeed however if the grave concern for freedom of the press which prompted adoption of the First Amendment should be read as a command that the government was without power to protect that freedom. That Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non-governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests. But corporate media can be part of the solution if they walk their talk: The commercial press is the most well-known promoter of campaign reforms to get money out of politics. Among reasons given is the need to level the playing field for challengers. Since the only thing campaigns produce is information for public distribution and the cost of distribution is the origin of much of the need for money in politics, why don't the commercial media offer to publish and broadcast candidate and issue ads for free? Not likely: there is speculation Obama may raise a billion dollars and Republicans 750 million. Campaign season is Christmas for media corporations. The corporate method of organization is not going to be banned any time soon. People work in corporations. They invest in them or own them (most are small). Interest groups, from the ACLU to the NRA to, are all corporations too. The persons in these groups have interests, and particularly in the non-profit sector, it's a method for organizing the so-called 99% so they can pool their resources and be sure they are heard.

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