July 17, 2014
The Privatization of Religion
Posted by Ronald Colombo

Prescinding a bit from corporate law per se, and at the risk of stating the painfully obvious, I think it is fairly clear that one of the reasons that Hobby Lobby has engendered so much opprobrium is because it strikes at the heart of efforts to privatize religion (and, dare I say, marginalize the role that faith plays in our society).

This was driven home vividly be a recent event in my neck of the woods.

A newly opened Hobby Lobby store (in northern NJ) was greeted this past Saturday by about 50 protestors.  According to an article covering the situation, the protestors chanted (among other things): "Hobby Lobby, hear the news - religious views are for the pews."

I think this accurately captures the feelings of a growing number of Americans.  The broad bipartisan consensus that led to RFRA's passage 20 years ago, bringing together both the ACLU and the Christian Legal Society, has largely dissipated.  There is a very real attempt to replace the "free exercise of relgion" with "freedom of worship."

Hobby Lobby cuts in precisely the opposite direction.  It gives recognition and protection to a broad and robust understanding of "the exercise or religion." 

I personally think this is appropriate, on a number of levels.  Not only do I think this comports well with our nation's traditional understanding of religious liberty but, more relevant to this symposium, to the changing nature of the corporation as pointed out by Lyman.  The decisions people make regarding their work, investments, and even what companies they patronize have become increasingly value-laden and politicized.  The market has given rise to "B Corps," and even many state governments today recognize "Benefit Corporations"(including Delaware) which can expressly disavow profit maximization.  To assert that corporations should be "value neutral" is so very yesterday. 

And herein lies the great contradiction, as some of my fellow contributors have pointed out.  There is rather broad support for the notion that businesses should indeed put principle ahead of profit.  Yet some of the most ardent advocates of that position balk when the principle is in question is religiously informed.

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