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Majority: Firms can't refuse to follow law

Rochester Business Journal
December 6, 2013

By 59 to 41 percent, most respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say for-profit businesses should not be able to refuse to comply with federal law based on the owners' religious beliefs.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to hear a pair of cases on whether for-profit corporations can refuse to provide employee insurance coverage for contraception-as mandated by the Affordable Care Act-because of the religious beliefs of the business owners.
 
Lower courts delivered divided rulings in the two cases. In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the owners of the chain of crafts stores, citing the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which said corporations have First Amendment free speech rights as "persons" under the law. "We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation's political expression but not its religious expression," the appeals court's majority opinion states.
 
By contrast, the 3rd Circuit Court majority in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius ruled that "for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise," adding that the Citizens United decision does not mean "all clauses of the First Amendment must be interpreted identically."
 
Churches and religious institutions are exempt from the ACA's contraception coverage requirements.

Roughly 720 readers participated in this week's poll, conducted Dec. 2 and 3.

In your view, should for-profit businesses have the right to refuse to comply with federal law based on the owners’ religious beliefs?
Yes: 41%
No: 59%

COMMENTS:

Not only businesses but individuals should not be forced to pay for services they consider morally objectionable.
—Jerry Lighthouse, CPIM Advanced Purchasing Technology LLC

Companies don't have religious views (unless they're in the religion business). This bogus corporate personhood stuff has gone too far.
—Bill Northwood
 
Granting the right to refuse to comply with a federal law based on the owners' religious beliefs would open a Pandora's box that would undermine the entire rule of law. The Supreme Court took up this case to make it clear that no matter what your religious beliefs, you can't "pick and choose" what federal laws you'll follow and those that you'll choose to ignore. Frankly, the waiver for religious non-profit employers was a mistake. Their employees deserve the same benefits as other Americans, no matter whom they work for.
—Michael L. Harf
 
Companies are not people. I also disagree with the Citizens United ruling because that gives an individual who basically controls the company leverage to multiply his or her control in political matters. Each individual should have the same influence. If a company could exert religious preference (of the owner or controlling management), it would in effect be taking freedom of religion away from its employees.
—Don Dinero
 
It is part of our Bill of Rights, which appears to be watering down. There is much precedent for maintaining religious freedom. For example, one group (Amish) does not have to pay into the Supplemental Security Income system because of their beliefs.
—Robert A. DeLena
 
If you allow businesses to dictate your health plans based on their religious convictions, where does it stop? Can a private business fire me for being a different religion; can they fire me for buying beer;, can they fire me for wearing mixed fabrics? I do not believe so, and I would not want to live in such a world.
—Damian Kumor
 
God, no. Some would argue that we already have anarchy; can you imagine if each company decides what laws they want to obey and what laws they don't want to obey?
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport
 
I answered yes because in the current political environment, laws are written to require certain behaviors that some people with religious conscience could not accept. For example, the government should not expect practicing Catholics to pay for birth control because it violates their religious conscience. I am not a Catholic, but I accept their right to believe what they believe. The correct answer to the question should be "no," because there should never be a circumstance where people have the right to not comply with federal law. However, to get there, the laws need to be written in a more generic way to allow flexibility within our known religious conscience.
—Mike Kaser, Penfield
 
Frankly, this is a difficult question. Perhaps that is why the Supreme Court will make the definitive decision in the instant case. With all due respect, I believe your question is overly broad. The court will deal with one-only one-specific request in this case. Perhaps any other request(s) should and will be handled on a case-by-case decision.
—Carol McManus
 
To force the employees of a corporation to be dictated to by the morality of its officers seems to me to be blatantly unconstitutional. If it is legal and mandated, then they have no constitutional protection to avoid its rules.
—Elizabeth Casper
 
This would allow any business the ability to deny service to anyone based on what they perceive as their religious right. For example, no service to a woman if she comes in without a male relative, no service to anyone in the LGBT community, etc.
—Steve Heveron-Smith
 
What better way to express disagreement with an unfair law than by peaceful resistance?
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.
 
Per the 14th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution, a woman has the right. No company should be able to take away that right. We should move forward in this country, not backward.
—Kim Pandina, Panda Wear

In Business 101, I learned that corporations had the same rights as individuals. Therefore corporations have Freedom of Religion. Any employee can pay for their own contraception. Anyway the premiums and copays under Obamacare are sure to encourage greater abstinence.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services

I say 'Yes' when it comes to privately held companies whose owners are treated like individuals on taxes and regulations, etc. I say 'No' when they are large, publically held corporations that pay lobbyists to manipulate or government to their ends.
—Bill Lanigan

Religion is a tough case because it can be used in many ways to contort something. I do remember reading that Obamacare would not apply to Muslims because their faith did not allow purchasing any type of insurance. I am a strong believer in religious freedom and I guess I'm also anti-PC. Since the insurance scam is there I can see many more scams coming and I would hate to see government tribunals deciding these matters.
—Daniel Mossien, architect

We are being forced to not have freedom of choice? Is this not still the USA or is this the USSR? Hard to tell just by the nature of your poll.
—Greg Palis

The President of the United States routinely refuses to comply with federal laws based on his political beliefs, the Congress routinely writes laws to exempt themselves, labor unions violate the law so often you cannot count the ways, so why should business be any different?
—Bob Sarbane

Religion was the main reason our country was founded on.
—John Sackett

To allow for-profit, or non-profit businesses for that matter, to be outside the law denies equal protection and the rule of law to employees in violation of the First Amendment. The history of religious beliefs trumping or dictating law, and it is a bloody history, is the very reason the Founding Fathers included the separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights. Should businesses be exempt from safety, minimum wage laws, and anti-discrimination laws because of their religious beliefs? Where does it end? When I was young in many states segregation was justified by many as supported by the Bible, as slavery once was, and "race mixing" would cost one their livelihood. Under the First Amendment business owners have the right to believe and practice their religion. They do not have the right to force their beliefs on others or be exempt from the rule of law.
—Jim Bertolone, president, Rochester Labor Council AFL-CIO

The more we force business to give people what they likely don't want we add cost to business and create a dictatorship verses a democratic society. What we should do is let the business owners decide what they will provide as these provisions will attract potential employees. Im a job market where health care is a negotiating point these items will be brought into most all work places thru sheer demand and the need to be competitive. Business owners should have the right to elect the coverage and benefits they want to give their employees as long as it is done fairly. This is America, right--freedom of choice?
—David DeMallie, IMCO Inc.

First, the way our system is currently set up, health care coverage is part of an employee's overall compensation. Once earned, it belongs to the employee. A business owner should have no right to dictate how employees spend the compensation they have rightfully earned, nor require them to adhere to the owner's religious beliefs in doing so. Second, if the court rules that businesses can refuse to comply with federal law based on the owners' religious beliefs, does it follow that a business owner can refuse to hire women based on his sincere belief that a woman's place is in the home? Refuse to hire anyone who does not share his beliefs? Freedom of religion should protect employees in the workplace to act according to their own beliefs, within the law.
—Lisa Schaertl, Tech Savvy Marketing

Seriously? Let's justify another loophole.
—Michael Lawrence

This is still the private sector. Business owners certainly have the right to determine what products or services they choose to provide (as long as they are legal products or services). To me, it is just that simple.
—Bob Worden, Penn Yan

It's not the compliance with laws that I have a problem with, it's the laws themselves. Oblundercare is an unconstitutional law implemented by socialist infiltrators of our government. I look forward to the impeachment proceedings.
—Lou Romano

The religious beliefs of a business owner should not interfere with the rights of their employees. If a law is deemed constitutional and secular in nature, then it must be upheld unilaterally despite religious beliefs.
—Robert Hagen

God's law(s) trumps man's law(s). When man's law is in violation of what God has revealed to mankind in the Bible, the Christian is compelled to obey God over man regardless of the consequences. Christians and Jews have been forced into these decisions for millennia--many have been martyred for it There is nothing new under the sun here. Our government/citizens continue, by passing these laws, to exercise their own religion--humanism--while denying others the free exercise of theirs.
—Steve Wichtowski, Honeoye

Instead of seeking exemptions from the law, business owners should stay out of businesses that might require them to violate their religious beliefs. Religious observance is a personal, spiritual path that individuals choose. The laws of a secular society should permit individual expression but not codify institutional adherence, especially when such exemptions may create economic advantage.
—Mike Bergin, president, Chariot Learning

This is a false issue. Or at least poorly phrased. The real issue is can anyone, whether a person or a business entity, be compelled to act contrary to their moral beliefs, whether based on so-called religion or simply deeply felt moral principles. But orderly government requires citizens obey the law or accept the consequences of their choices. Religion should not be privileged in this matter; any genuinely held belief is enough. But big boys and girls accept the consequences of their acts. If you think something is immoral, act to repeal it; if that fails resist, disobey or act up, but don't expect to be pardoned at the last moment by claiming conscience or religion as an excuse.
—John Perry Smith, Total Information

In principle, businesses should be exempted with federal laws that violate religious beliefs. Such laws violate our basic freedom of religion principle in that they interfere with the freedom of individuals to practice their faith. On the other hand, religious organizations frequently use this "separation" principle to exempt themselves from ethical business practices.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees, among other things: that the Government will not make laws about how people practice their religion; that people may practice their religion freely; and that people may assemble in whatever groups for whatever purposes they desire, so long as they remain peaceful. The existence of these rights means that government has no power whatsoever to define what religious practice is, or to interfere with that practice, or to try to restrict religious practice to certain activities, places, or times, absent a compelling reason. That the current administration wants to prescribe what insurance benefits a business must offer its employees is not a compelling reason; it's simply high-handed meddling.
—Wade Cook

The employees’ rights trump the employers, they are free to use or not use according to their own beliefs.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.

I say yes only because government had no business getting involved in sanctioning the laws. We have gone way overboard in the interpretation of separation of church and state.
—J.A DePaolis, Penfield

The founders of our country had different degrees of religious beliefs; some more than others. However, they all recognized that individuals have unalienable rights given to us by God or the Creator as is stated in the Declaration of Independence. Certainly government shouldn’t be able to take those rights away even if it applies to a business owner who decides not to abide by an unjust law such as Obamacare. This right also applies not only to individual business owners but to corporations who by definition are considered “legal persons.”
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.

This law violates the law. The government has no right to require individuals or businesses to forgo their beliefs and to commit murder because it has been found somehow acceptable to some people.
—Jim Sullivan

When did a corporation become something other than a legal entity? All corporations exist under the law. The corporation must comply with the law--period. Employees may choose according to their belief system. Not so for a corporation.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

Despite what the Supreme Court says, corporations are not human beings, and they do not have the same privileges that individuals have.
—Ken Maher

The U.S. military allows exclusions for conscientious objectors, so the concept is not a new one.
—George Thomas, Ogden

No, corporations are separate legal entities from their owners. If business owners desire to refuse to comply with a federal law like this they can choose to become non-profit entities. Of course this will never happen. Also, it's funny how there never is a time when corporations refuse to receive the tax advantages offered from our local, state or federal government.
—Chuck Maloy


12/6/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


What You're Saying 

Lance Guglin at 1:31:08 PM on 12/6/2013
Very interesting bit of editorializing here by the RBJ. In a poll where the response was overwhelming, 59% to 41%, in favor of the individual and for limiting the ability of corporations to ignore federal law, the comments chosen for print are dominated by typical right win...  Read More >
Paul Ericson at 2:37:55 PM on 12/9/2013
Point of fact: We do not selectively post Snap Poll comments. Our practice is to post all signed comments from poll respondents (unsigned comments appear neither in print nor online).
--Paul Ericson, RBJ editor

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