Monday, April 7, 2014

Religious Liberty and the End of Corporations

The Supreme Court heard a case that represents a social issue of paramount importance. Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is indicative of a larger undercurrent in the United States that began with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and has most recently found a home in the Affordable Care Act, and the employer mandate to provide contraception—the dramatic expansion of the protection of “religious liberty”. Hobby Lobby argues that providing health insurance that covers birth control violates the religious beliefs of its owners, and should be granted an exemption. This case ultimately comes to the questions of whether the religious beliefs of the individual owners can dictate policy for the entirety of the business, and whether the corporation is actually an individual that can express these preferences. I contend that this drastic expansion of the definition of “religious liberty” is at best harmful, and at worst an opportunity for business owners across the country to deny rights to workers and services to patrons.

          This specific case is crucial because it signifies a starting point by which draconian “religious freedom” bills could find precedent, should the Court decide in favor of the non-government party. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby will affirm the personhood of corporations, a model that was created by the Court in the aforementioned Citizens United case. This would mean that corporations cannot only express their wants in the political arena, but also follow a religion, hold a conscience, and discern right from wrong.

Here lies the true detrimental impact of the case—if the Court rules that corporations are treated as sentient entities, the Arizona “religious freedom” bill, and many others like it, would find a standard by which they can argue the legitimacy of their cause. If corporations can opt out of healthcare mandates on religious grounds, the decision to deny services to patrons deemed morally objectionable based on the owner’s religious beliefs would be justified, as would choosing to hang a “whites only” sign outside of a restaurant through the owner’s interpretation of Leviticus. A loan officer could deny credit to a man with visible tattoos because the Prophet Muhammad teaches that permanent markings are haram. The wrong decision in this case would eliminate any standard by which subjective religious interpretations can be separated from business practices in the free market.

To avoid these scenarios, the Supreme Court must rule in favor of the government party in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Further, the President should aggressively pursue appointing members to the Federal Election Commission that have shown strong support for political contribution reform. The government must make positive steps towards reversing the precedent set by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in order to affirm the basic tenant of corporate law that separates the corporation, a legal entity, from its owners, and allow individuals to seek goods and services in a truly free market. Just as my right to swing my fist ends at my neighbor’s cheek, the rights of businesses to express their beliefs ends where they violate the rights of workers and consumers alike.

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Irish history lesson

Being Irish-American is about a lot more than shamrocks, the color green, leprechaun hats, and partying every March 17.

In fact, Ireland and the US have a long history of interaction and many Irish-Americans have strong ties to the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick's Day is a great day to keep this shared history in mind, and for NYT contributor Timothy Egan that meant noting how thoroughly ignorant of a seminal event in Irish and Irish-American history one particular Irish-American is.

Egan's column covers how Paul Ryan's railing against food assistance and other programs intended to help impoverished Americans parallels the words and ideas of British officials who refused to relieve the victims of the potato blight. The similarity is both uncanny and disturbing. Obviously, the US is not in the same situation as, say, Ireland in 1847, but there are people here and now experiencing real hunger and the deprivation of other basic needs. Some of these people are even working one or more jobs. 

It would be great if Ryan could learn the lesson his ancestors did: hunger is a symptom of a defective society, not a defective person. It would be even better if others who share his views and make similar remarks about "dependency" would learn it as well, about both the SNAP program and programs to help the poverty-stricken generally. It will probably take more than a simple Irish history lesson and longer than a St.Patrick's Day parade, however, for them to learn it.

In the end, as always, the best response to his comments about the poor and nearly everything else that comes from Paul Ryan is:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Executives in motion

It may still be chilly outside, but you have no excuse not to get some exercise if these two can make the time:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Exercise in Hypocrisy

Last week, the College Republicans announced they would be bringing Ann Coulter to speak at their Lincoln Day Dinner in April.  While I have always known this particular student group to be a beacon of hypocrisy and the illogical, even I was struck by this announcement. 

The irony in this case stems from the president of College Republicans, Mark Gianfalla, authoring a viewpoint in The Observer last week that declared that the GOP embraced tolerance, unlike the Democrats.  Gianfalla states that they simply believe in “the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution.” 

It is with this backdrop that Gianfalla and his friends publicly announced their decision to bring Ms. Coulter to campus, a decision that baffled most and inspired rage in many.  The same group that called for tolerance last week is bringing one of the most intolerant and blatantly ignorant political commentators to grace the media today to campus.  Sarah Morris represented the thoughts of many in her compelling viewpoint, and I’ll take this opportunity to expand on her arguments.  The University’s reaction to this decision should be swift and forceful—issue a statement condemning this decision by the College Republicans.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Clips of the Week

The Daily Show and the Colbert Report took Monday off, but they made up for it with a solid showing the rest of the week.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Green for Green

I am not a fan of the role money plays in American politics, especially with the trends that have emerged since the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

A recent New York Times article, however, showed how this new arena of Super Pacs and unlimited outside funds can be put to good use. The article discussed how billionaire Tom Steyer and others are planning a nationwide effort to campaign to call for a serious response to climate change and pressure politicians to come up with real solutions.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saturday Clips of the Week

The CBO released a biannual report that included analysis of the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act. Both Jon and Stephen covered the report and the responses it provoked.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

America's Game and America's People

I love football.

I also love the specific teams I've cheered for over the years: my Eden Prairie High School Eagles, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Minnesota Vikings.

None of these teams however, have an undeniably offensive mascot. The Washington Redskins do. While the nation's attention is still turned to football, spread the word about this important message that should have aired during the game:

This is a simple change that needs to be made now, and then we can hopefully follow up by addressing the more complex problems facing Native Americans.