The Affordable Care Act and Religious Liberty

The Wall Street Journal’s article today that outlines the two appellate court rulings is helpful in understanding the context in which the Supreme Court will decide whether or not for-profit companies are subject to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) mandates that might violate the owner’s religious beliefs.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that for-profit, secular corporations can’t engage in the exercise of religious beliefs. In other words, a corporation cannot have its’ own religious beliefs. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that a corporation is a form of association that, regardless of its profit-seeking status, can espouse religious beliefs:

“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”

In thinking about this issue, it seems to me that a privately held corporation is often more an expression of the owner’s competence, persona and values whereas a publically held corporation is an expression of a group of individuals who have joined together to own a corporation. It seems to me that in the former, there is more of a direct expression of values (and religious beliefs or lack thereof) than there is in the latter, where, presumably, there are likely to be competing religious beliefs among the owners (shareholders) of the corporation.

Can an individual’s religious beliefs be expressed through a for-profit corporation? If the court finds in favor of the ACA, what will be the Christian Business owner’s response? What should that response be? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Bill English, CEO