Missing the point on Hobby Lobby – rejoinder to David Post

July 10

David Post has responded to my critique of his post on the Supreme Court’s decision in the the Hobby Lobby case. But his response misses the point of my argument.

In his reply, David emphasizes that Hobby Lobby cannot exercise religion apart from its owners. For example, he writes that “the question in the case is whether the mandate requires Hobby Lobby, Inc. to do something that its religion forbids it to do. The current owners of Hobby Lobby Inc. may indeed have religious beliefs that forbid paying (or even buying insurance for others that will pay) for certain kinds of contraception – but that’s simply not the question in the case. The question in the case is whether Hobby Lobby, Inc. has religious beliefs that forbid paying (or even buying insurance for others that will pay) for certain kinds of contraception.”

As I explained in the previous post, the problem is that imposing a mandate on the corporation necessarily imposes one on its owners as well. Like any other organization, a corporation has no purposes of its own separate from those of the people who own and control it. This becomes even more clear in David’s effort to separate out the case of nonprofit religious corporations, which, he claims are firms that “unlike all others, do.. have religious beliefs, and do… exercise those religious beliefs.” But of course a nonprofit firm as such cannot have beliefs any more than Hobby Lobby can. Belief requires consciousness, and no inanimate entity has that. But the owners of both nonprofit and for-profit corporations do have beliefs, and do exercise them. And one of the ways in which they do so is by honoring religious constraints on the ways in which they use their property. Similarly, a restaurant does not and cannot have religious beliefs. But if the owner happens to be an Orthodox Jew, a law requiring him to serve nonkosher food in that restaurant would burden his free exercise of religion. The government could not get around that by claiming that it was merely imposing a mandate on a building that has no beliefs of its own. Just as people can speak through corporations that they control even though the corporations have no beliefs of their own to express, so too they can use a corporation to adhere to religious beliefs.

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and popular political participation. He is the author of "The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain" (forthcoming) and "Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter."
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