Hobby Lobby Case and What It Says About Corporations With a Conscience
Reproduced with permission
If people want to deny corporations a conscience, how can they ever
again demand that corporations act morally, conscientiously?
The Supreme Court was right to allow corporations to be exempt from the
mandate to pay for abortion pills or contraception when their leaders have
established religious reasons against them. Moral issues can stand as
questions for the liberty of conscience – whether individual conscience or
That liberty of conscience empowers individuals, religious institutions,
and corporations – as the Supreme Court just now made clear on the last day
of June! The protections of the liberty of conscience for years have allowed
people with a track record of pacifism to be exempt from military service
and also for hospital nurses and doctors who object to abortion to be
scheduled for other surgeries only. "Conscientious objectors" have had a
long, distinguished, respected, empowered history in America.
Oddly, those who attack a corporate right to choose allege that it is
obvious that corporations do not have consciences – and so that they cannot
be "conscientious objectors." How are those attackers so blind?
For years enlightened people have urged corporations to exercise their
consciences, to affirm social responsibility, to care for the environment,
to speak the truth, to honor the civil rights and basic humanity of all
their employees, customers and neighbors – among other moral corporate
behaviors. As a charter member and former officer of the Society for
Business Ethics, we have repeatedly sought to hold corporations accountable
for their policies and the consequences of their decisions. Moral categories
like "just," "accountable," "caring," and "morally aware" apply to
individuals, groups, and also corporations. The applications of these
ethical terms may vary, but the point is the same. Corporations can be
properly and successfully sued for being unfair, unaccountable, and even
lacking "due care" – even when no explicit laws are broken.
We properly critique General Motors – not just its officers – for failing
to correct its ignition-switch problem. Even if all the officers responsible
for this tragic failure were replaced, we still will trust General Motors
less. People died and others were severely injured because GM failed them.
What was missing in the GM corporate ethos? The ethical core?
If people want to deny corporations a conscience, how can they ever again
demand that corporations act morally, conscientiously? If we want our
corporations to be ethical agents, both corporate conscience and
conscientious objection must be in the mix, too.
The morality of corporations is partly aided when they are led by people
of good conscience. Nevertheless, "group think," even among good people, can
still become very problematic, if not seemingly demonic. The broadly
respected Reinhold Niebuhr talked of Moral Man and Immoral Society,
including writing a book by that title in 1932, because even otherwise good
people can numbly engage in group activities that they would never consider
doing individually, on their own. There are many examples, including the
majority of wars, large portions of political rhetoric, and most of the
racial and gender bias in social structures. It is not enough to have
conscientious leaders. We have and treasure many conscientious corporations.
They are now nicely recognized and empowered once more.
In a recent ChristianPost.com essays on Gospel faithfulness (here) and
here, we examined the essential, eternal marriage of faithful behavior
and faithful belief. Saving faith is based upon God's active faithfulness to
us, and it should result in our growing, measurable faithfulness to him –
and all of this by the Lord's amazing grace.
Those recent Gospel faithfulness essays helped explain why freedom of
religion and liberty of conscience were essential Biblical teachings at the
very heart of a vibrant society. This gracious, God-given right of elemental
freedoms and liberties has become an increasingly urgent topic both within
the United States and internationally. Within the U.S., there are numerous
governmental and educational pressures to try to make everyone support a
secular, no-public-prayer, pro-abortion,
marriage-is-whatever-you-want-it-to-be public agenda – without the liberty
of conscience. Consequently, the liberty of conscience has been in serious
danger recently. Meanwhile, "conscientious objector" is almost an unused
term. Let us revive it now. Religious oppression is also a growing
international menace as all current readers of the ChristianPost.com and
other news outlets know well.
By the way, it was particularly offensive for the federal government –
under the clumsy camouflage of making health care affordable – to try to
force everyone now to support abortions, including abortion pills. It should
make no difference if we support morally offensive activity as individuals
or as groups or corporations – all are morally noxious. We people are still
responsible for decisions. Why should we become morally numb just because we
work corporately? One does not have to study Reinhold Niebuhr to understand
It is bad enough when people act badly as part of a group, or gang. It is
morally revolting when we are required by law to act badly. All our leaders
know very well that a huge portion of us have deep moral objections to
abortion on demand and abortion pills. Even if some people believe that the
"morning after" pills do not cause abortions, that case remains ambiguous.
Liberty of conscience must still be respected, even when other people's
consciences are wrong.
Of course the numbers of objectors are not important. Even the
established, long-term moral passions of a small minority should be
respected. And the contraceptives that many want to be given freely are
available for pocket change, anyway.
Our leaders like to talk of "diversity," but there are increasing
pressures on everyone for a secular uniformity, a social conformity that
excludes Biblical values. Please tell me: Who really wants their world
to become one giant anthill? No one! Thankfully, freedom and liberty
were invented by our Creator – as recorded in the Bible, and noted in our
Declaration of Independence – and these divine rights protect all of us from
tyranny, even from well-intentioned tyranny. Everyone benefits with freedom.
Besides, the liberty you protect for others is always also your own.
In the Biblical instructions for life in the Promised Land in Leviticus
25, we read some of the boldest freedom-loving words: Proclaim liberty
throughout the land, to all the inhabitants. This message of liberty
was to free everyone – including the citizens, the non-citizens, and the
"undocumented." For good reason this awesome Biblical announcement was
crafted into the American Liberty Bell years before it was rung as the
Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Also, for good reason our
understanding of liberty was broadened to include freedom from the
oppression of hostile ideology – such racial-discrimination, gender-bias,
power-manipulation of health care, and pro-abortion policies of a society.
The Biblical pronouncement for liberty in Leviticus – Proclaim
liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants – boldly expressed
the deep devotion to liberty that also characterized the early American
leadership. The founders of our blessed republic would be proud of our
Supreme Court in confident support of the liberty of conscience, including
liberty of corporate conscience. As we celebrate America's 238th birthday,
let the Liberty Bell, though cracked, ring loudly for the precious liberty
of conscience, now so powerfully reaffirmed. Thank you Lord.