Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hobby Lobby, or Can I have my cake and eat it too?

This past week two cases were argued before the U.S. Supreme Court arising out of the mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires that employer-provided health insurance cover contraception. The more widely-known and reported case is that involving Hobby Lobby, the chain of arts-and-crafts stores. It seems that Hobby Lobby is owned by the Green family, who are apparently ardent evangelical Christians. They claim to object to several forms of contraception which they contend are abortifacients (i.e. that the form of contraception is not a prophylactic but actually induces an abortion). For the moment, let's put aside the rather dubious science behind such claims and take it at it's face value. Hobby Lobby and its supporters have characterized their position as one about "religious liberty" and that requiring them to provide health insurance which covers, in their view, abortion, violates their religious beliefs. Ah, but whose beliefs are we talking about? Therein lies the rub, and why this case is not really about religious liberty but rather about wanting the tyrannical State to protect you when it suits you and let you do whatever you damn well please when it doesn't.

Hobby Lobby is a corporation. What is a corporation? Well, a corporation is a legal entity recognized by law. Why do people form corporations? Well, a really big reason is to insulate themselves from individual liability for the debts of the corporation. If you are a vendor of Hobby Lobby and they don't pay you for your materials, you can sue Hobby Lobby but you can't sue the Green family. If your neighborhood Hobby Lobby leaves a mess on the floor and you slip and fall and break your leg, again, you can sue Hobby Lobby, but not the Green family. Now, there is a way you actually could sue the Green family in those instances, and that is if the Green family ran their corporation as an extension of themselves personally--the classic way that happens is by commingling corporate and individual funds. In that case, you might be permitted to "pierce the corporate veil" as lawyers and judges like to say, and get to the individuals. The underlying premise is that if the individuals have disregarded the corporate entity and simply carried on their business as if it were their individual affairs, then they should be individually liable. I'm making an assumption here, but my guess is that the Greens have run their corporation properly and that, if you slip and fall in a Hobby Lobby next week and try to sue the Greens individually, their lawyers would very, very quickly file a motion to dismiss that lawsuit, which motion would be very, very quickly granted. They might even file what is known as a Rule 11 motion for a frivolous action and have you and/or your lawyers sanctioned for even bringing such a lawsuit.

So, from a legal standpoint, when you are dealing with Hobby Lobby, you are dealing with the corporation, not the people who own it. But the Greens seem to want that State-created protection when they may be on the hook for debts and lawsuits, but also want the State to give them a pass on the contraceptive mandate because it offends their individual religious beliefs. But, but, the mandate does not apply to the Greens individually, it applies to Hobby Lobby. Hm, problematic. it would seem. No, not if you can disguise what you are trying to accomplish with nice buzzwords like "religious liberty". Let's be clear, the ACA does not require the Green family to pay for ANYTHING. It requires the corporation they own to do so. It's not a church, it's a corporation. It is a creature of the State. If they want to run the corporation according to "Christian values", bully for them. But that does not change the fact that Hobby Lobby is a corporation and not the alter ego of the Green family. This ain't about religion folks, as usual it's about money.

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