Will Supreme Court Endow Corporations With A Soul, Too?
If any “burden” is imposed on the employers in these cases, it hardly can be called “substantial” any more than the burden government routinely imposes on taxpayers to fund overseas wars or domestic social programs to which they personally object.
But if the high court grants corporations a religious license to pick and choose whichever government rules they want to follow or taxes they want to pay, a substantial burden would be imposed on the ability of the health care law to work — which would be just fine with some of its critics.
The impact of such a decision would reach far beyond Obamacare. That’s why the Supreme Court has drawn boundaries around the First Amendment’s “free exercise of religion” clause since its ruling in the 1878 test case of the bigamy conviction of George Reynolds, the personal secretary to Mormon leader Brigham Young.
Reynolds contended that his bigamy conviction violated his First Amendment rights as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which would not renounce bigamy until 1890. He lost, mainly because of legal reasoning drawn partly from a letter by Thomas Jefferson in which he drew a sharp distinction between religious belief and religiously motivated actions.
Because belief “lies solely between man and his God,” Jefferson wrote, “the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.” In that spirit, the Supreme Court’ wrote, “Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship, would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?”
One hopes not. Government should not intrude on religious faith, but for the sake of the common good, it occasionally must intervene in acts that are motivated by religious belief.
(Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.)
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb