Corporate Citizenship


Joshua Pobieglo-Kapinos, December 2014

In March of 2014, the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case entered the Supreme Court with the issue of determining whether or not the retail store Hobby Lobby should be forced by law to provide certain contraceptives to women under the Affordable Care Act of (2010)-that requires certain employers to ensure the 20 contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration for women are available without any cost sharing requirements- even though some of the methods are against the owners religious beliefs.[1] The decision of the case that took place June 30, 2014 favored Hobby Lobby and their religious freedom; however it sparked a wide array of debate from those who felt the verdict granted personhood to a corporation along with the first amendment right of religious freedom that is intended for the individual, as well as concern for women’s access to reproductive rights, where some find the outcome highly problematic, and others see a landmark victory. American citizens should all be concerned about this case in particular however because it has proven to be a win for a corporate entity; which was designed in U.S law to not exceed the powers or liberties of any individual humans rights and liberties.

Scholars, women’s rights groups, and many other individuals have explained the many problematic concerns of the Hobby Lobby victory by protesting regularly and publicly voicing the impact on first amendment rights, women’s health concerns, and other impacts regarding the free exercise rights granted to this for-profit organization. Writer for Americans United for Separation of Church and State Jason Beduhn voices his concern in his article titled “Corporate Conscience” stating that

The real damage comes from the route the court took to justify that decision, by extending First Amendment rights to corporations in the area of religion. For corporations to exercise such rights necessarily conflicts with the religious liberty of its employees, i.e., the real human beings whose rights the First Amendment was designed to protect.[2]

He illustrates the fear of other corporations claiming religious exemption from federal laws in the future and how these laws were enacted by our government to balance the control corporations have over their employees. While identifying the weaknesses on the case, Beduhn also brings up corporate law, explaining “corporations are legal entities distinct from the individuals associated with them as their owners, officers or employees.”[3] There is a sacrifice of religious liberty where employees’ lives outside of the workplace are influenced and in part dictated by their employer’s policies and beliefs.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Ginsburg also speaks to how previous laws negatively impact this decision as well as the female workers of Hobby Lobby. Justice Ginsburg showed fault in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that “specified three categories of preventive care that health plans must cover at no added cost to the plan participant or beneficiary.”[4] While this act states that these often expensive health care costs will be covered by the corporation or Medicare, Ginsburg also says “The scheme had a large gap, however; it left out preventive services that many women’s health advocates and medical professionals believe are critically important.”[5] The ACA does state it is the duty of Human Health Services to cover the expense of all preventative medications; however there are recent contraceptive alternatives that came out after the act was passed in 2010. This means that the new –and improved- contraceptive medications will not be covered by Human Health Services because they were not listed in the original ACA. There are cost barriers for these women to obtain certain preventative care when they are forced to pay out of pocket. To this, the court suggested “that there always will be whenever, in lieu of tolling an enterprise claiming a religion-based exemption, the government, i.e. the general public, who can pick up the tab.”[6] Ginsburg brings to light the fault in the ACA, while also stating that taxpayer’s money going towards health care, is ultimately going to be used to pick up the slack that multi-million dollar corporation Hobby Lobby is exempt from to pay for women’s accessibility to care that often plays a vital role in their lives.

As previously stated, the legal issues and impact on first amendment rights for individual religious freedom also serve as a huge impact on the female gender and the treatment of women’s rights in general. After the verdict, people of both genders were outraged. Star Tribune Newspaper summed up the outlook of many by bluntly referring to recent decades gender inequality and how this outcome “merits coverage reverts to an earlier, darker age in attitudes about women’s role in reproduction. Women have reason to be alarmed that the court majority did not give more weight to the health benefits of preventing unwanted pregnancies.”[7] Critics view this as a verdict that will affect females being able to control their reproductive lives, menstrual cycle, and inability to help with problematic health issues such as endometriosis. Their overall life is greatly altered as these issues impact health, mental state, and overall ability to perform as equals amongst peers. North Carolina progressive political group known as Women Organizing Wilmington has been protesting weekly since the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case began sharing their views that reproductive choice is a woman’s right, not a corporation’s.

While most critics see a loss of individual rights and flawed logic on the courts behalf, there is also a victory for those supporting Hobby Lobby and the owner’s success in standing up for their first amendment freedom of religion rights that they are also entitled to hold. Representing the Green family, (owners of the retail chain store) The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty organized, and continues to run a website open to the positive aspects of this case, while putting to rest some of the myths regarding the media’s negative connotation of Hobby Lobby. They say their case proved that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open up a family business, followed by their definition of the ruling:

The Court upheld a June 2013 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protecting Hobby Lobby and the Green family from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. That mandate requires Hobby Lobby and co-founders David and Barbara Green to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. [8]

The cite mainly references the ideas of those who fall under the same religious spectrum as the Green family, but they do give a completely different outlook into why exactly they were granted what in their eyes was a victory.

Most writers talking negatively about Hobby Lobby neglect to mention many truthful facts that ensure the corporation is not out to take away birth control from women- which is expected considering they are only arguing one side of the spectrum. The reality is, “While the Green family has no moral objection to providing 16 of the 20 FDA-approved drugs and devices that are part of the federal mandate, providing drugs or devices that have the potential to terminate a life conflicts with their faith.”[9] The certain drugs they claim go against their religious beliefs are contraceptives that some studies have shown terminate a pregnancy such as Plan B Onestep, and three others alike. Credible sources state that morning after pills do not actually end a pregnancy that has been implanted, while others claim these contraceptives can prevent the embryo from implanting the uterus. Regardless, Hobby Lobby associates are still offered 16/20 FDA approved contraceptives. The Green family is by no means hiding in the shadows regarding this topic; and considering it is a Supreme Court case, it would be hard to do so. They still are an equal opportunity employer who bases their evaluation of applicants on character and claim to support individual liberties. The company contends it has never imposed its views on employees or made religion a factor in their employment. “The Greens were simply objecting to providing four products that violated their beliefs. Employees are free to obtain these products on their own.”[10]

This heated debate in contemporary politics demonstrates the fact that there will always be a victor in Supreme Court cases, and also a group who feels negatively impacted by Congress’ decision. It becomes clear looking at monumental cases such as this one that there is dire importance when it comes to making sure that our elected government officials in the House and Senate are capable of understanding both sides of each argument, and possess the correct moral character, educational backgrounds, and experience to analyze what exactly rights such as freedom of religion actually entail. Although personhood was granted to a corporation and swiped from the person in the eyes of some, the rights to withhold religious beliefs in what was once a local business were upheld. There are valid arguments from both parties, and the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case continues to spark attention in the media. Analyzing this case illustrates how any outcome has impact not only on the rule of law in present day society, but also in dictating the Supreme Court’s decision process making in later years. As citizens, it is our responsibility to stay involved and notice when a persons granted rights are arguably infringed upon.


[1] Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S.____(2014)
[2] Beduhn, Jason. “Corporate Conscience?” Church and State, October 10, 2014, 19-20. Accessed October 27, 2014.
[3] Beduhn, Jason. “Corporate Conscience?” 20.
[4] Coverage of Preventative Health Services, US Code 42 §300gg–13
[5] 113th Cong. Rec. 28841 (2009) (statement of Sen. Boxer)
[6] Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S.____(2014)
[7] Star Tribune. “Scotus Deals Blow to Womens Rights: Where Will Courts Deference to Employers Religion End?” The Star Tribune Company (Minneapolis, MI), July 1, 2014. Accessed October 29, 2014.
[8] Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Landmark Supreme Court Case. Last modified 2012. Accessed October 29, 2014.
[9] Wagner, Adam. “Protestors Picket Hobby Lobby in Wilmington.” Halifax Media Group (Wilmington, NC),
April 7, 2014. Accessed October 29, 2014.
[10] Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Landmark Supreme Court Case

Further Reading

“First Amendment – Free Exercise of Religion – Tenth Circuit Holds For-Profit Corporate Plaintiffs Likely to Succeed on the Merits of Substantial Burden on Religious Exercise Claim.” Harvard Law Review, January 2014. Accessed November 10, 2014.
Gusmano, Michael K. “The Hobby Lobby Decision May Undermine the Goals of the ACA.” The Philospher’s Eye. Last modified July 8, 2014. Accessed November 5, 2014.

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