York Daily Record, Pa., Mike Argento column

By Mike Argento, York Daily Record, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 01--I got an email from a guy who wrote to complain that his employer, a snack food producer, was honoring Pride Month by flying a rainbow flag.

He was upset because, he wrote, as a Christian, he did not condone gays and he felt that, by working there, he was being forced to honor something that he believes shouldn't be honored. He wrote, "I hold no hatred or animosity for gays but I do not and cannot celebrate or condone this Ideal. ...This is offensive to me as it will appear that all employees embrace this Ideal. We celebrate one Veterans Day, one Independence Day, one Memorial Day, but an entire month for Pride? I don't recall Heterosexual Day or Month. This seems unfair to all who disagree with the celebration."

Well, unlike Veterans Day, or Independence Day, or Memorial Day, Pride Month isn't a national holiday. And I have the same response to him as I have to white people who complain that there's a Black History Month but no White History Month: Every month is White History Month. Just as every month is Heterosexual Pride Month. I mean, heterosexuals were protected under the laws governing marriage for centuries before gays started to get equal protection under the law.

I'm being purposely vague about the guy and his employer because he feels he may face repercussions for speaking out on the issue -- a possibility, I suppose. He has the right under the First Amendment to express his opinions -- a right, to paraphrase Voltaire's biographer, we should defend to the death -- but the corporation that owns the business also has First Amendment rights that may trump his rights, at least according to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in Citizens United, granted corporations First Amendment rights, at least as it comes to spending tons of money on political campaigns to elect representatives who help them suppress the First Amendment rights of their employees. And last week, the high court expanded on corporate First Amendment rights, ruling that corporations are able to hold religious beliefs that could exempt them from certain laws -- in this case, the mandate for health insurers to cover certain forms of contraception. (Funny, as it has been pointed out, there was no religious objection to insurance covering vasectomies or Viagra.)

Corporations, the Supreme Court seems to be concluding, are people too. So it should come as no surprise that they have gay friends. Who doesn't? (Although, in the case of this employer, it seems the corporation, in addition to expressing its support of tolerance and acceptance, has determined that gay people also eat snacks, just like straight people. Imagine that.)

Which brings us to the Supremes' ruling in the case involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, and court's continuing quest to grant personhood to corporations.

By its usual 5-4 vote, the court ruled, essentially, that corporations, like human beings, can hold religious views.

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That comes as a surprise to many of us who believe that corporations are large, faceless, soulless entities specifically designed to make tons of money while evading any responsibility for their actions.

Who knew?

It raises a lot of questions. Where do corporations go to church? How to they fit in the pews? Do they tithe, putting stock options in the collection basket? (Sure, they do.)

It seems silly to even consider that corporations can hold religious beliefs. Although, as comedian John Oliver pointed out on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight," it is clear that some corporations do adhere to belief systems. Showing a picture of a burrito, he said Taco Bell is clearly Hindu "because you know there's no beef in those ... things."

And it raises a lot of questions about what happens now.

The court's majority opinion claimed that the ruling was narrow, applying only in this case, as if the highest court in the land were the same as a district justice ruling in a landlord-tenant dispute. I don't think that's how the Supreme Court works. In this case, the court ruled that the religious beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood trumped the law. What's to stop other employers from finding religion and using it to evade the law?

Right. Corporations would never do something that cynical and deceitful. Nah.

What if a company owned by religious people felt it violated their beliefs to hire gays? What if they held a deep religious conviction that women shouldn't work? What if they held a deep religious belief that offering vaccinations to children of their workers violated their beliefs?

It could go on and on. Each of these companies could file a claim, take it to court and point to the Hobby Lobby case as precedent for taking whatever action they deemed fit.

Corporations could become Muslims and decide that women shouldn't work. Or they could become Scientologists and believe that insurance shouldn't cover mental health problems. (From what I've read about Scientology and its founder, hack sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, it seems odd that the religion would be opposed to psychiatry. It seems in need of it.)

Or corporations could cloak themselves in religion and decide that they are pacifists and don't want to pay taxes for weapons or the military. That doesn't work out very well for people who are pacifists. But the court may have opened that door.

If this continuing legal evolution of corporations into human beings continues apace, it could raise a lot of questions. Could corporations be granted the right to vote? Can they get a driver's license? Could they cite religious belief and go through the express checkout at the grocery store with more than 12 items?

And, finally, if corporations are people, where would they go to the bathroom?

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Apparently, the answer is anywhere they want.

Mike Argento's column appears Mondays and Fridays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints. Reach him at [email protected] or 771-2046. Read more Argento columns at www.ydr.com/mike. Or follow him on Twitter at @FnMikeArgento.


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