Can a corporation have a religion? This is one of the key issues in the recent Hobby Lobby case which is under advisement with the U.S. Supreme Court. The family that owns and operates Hobby Lobby is a very religious family and they wish to live their faith both personally and publicly. The Hobby Lobby case has a lot to do with the ability of any American who wishes to protect the right to live their faith at home, at church and in the public square, including the marketplace. Do we have to keep our consicence locked up deep inside, or can we live our lives in a way that is consistent with our conscience?
There are some Americans who believe a corporation cannot have a religion, conscience or social policy. I think many more Americans understand businesses to already possesses these things. A large portion of America may not have thought of this in these terms before, but it is common knowledge that the largest corporations spend millions of dollars developing an image, ethos and/or identity. Walmart, Nike, Apple, IBM, McDonalds, etc…, want us to believe that they are the kindest, most thoughtful and most environmentally or socially conscious entity since the invention of the wheel. Even the smallest businesses, mom and pop shops and sole proprietorships use bible quotes and religious symbols such as crosses, crescent moons and menorahs in their advertisements.
Although activists such as the people behind Moveon.org criticize any business who shows support for traditional marriage, they send “thank-you” notes and provide public praise for businesses who support LGBT-friendly legislation and candidates. The nation’s largest LGBT lobby organization, Human Rights Campaign, keeps track of corporations LGBT friendliness. The Human Rights Campaign calls this the Corporate Equality Index which ranks corporations across the country, according to their acceptance of employees who identify as part of the LGBT community. The largest lobbiest for the LGBT community recognizes that corporations have social policies on homosexuality and related identities.
One great example of corporate conscience recently came to light in California. Mozilla is a large corporation who made its name by developing one of the larger search engines for the internet. Mozilla Co-founder and CEO, Brendan Eich, just stepped down because his personal beliefs apparently conflicted with the beliefs of the company he helped found. Talk about a timely event as the Supreme Court ponders the very existence of the cause of Mr. Eich’s downfall. It has echoes of HAL, the computer that actually took on a life of its own in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The creation evolved into something beyond the creator’s control. It sounds spooky, but Mozilla is an example of just that.
Eich’s undoing was rooted in the fact that he supported a law that protected traditional marriage. What does marriage have to do with running a technology company? Not much. But the board, employees and customers of Mozilla simply could not find the ability to tolerate Eich’s personal belief regarding marriage. Eich’s critics saw his departure as the only possible way to resolve the difference between his beliefs and the beliefs of the corporation. Mozilla could not coexist with Eich. Mozilla could not accept Eich’s personal beliefs.
In its blog on the Eich/Mozilla disaster, the Human Rights Campaign clearly recognized corporate conscience when it noted that hundreds of major businesses had weighed in on the marriage issue to support same-sex marriage at the same time that Eich had donated a small portion of his private funds in the defense of marriage.
So as the Supreme Court reads through all the briefs, arguments and exhibits in the Hobby Lobby case, I’m left to wonder if a corporation can only have a conscience if that conscience is one of intolerance of family values, unyielding adherence to progressivism and total disinterest in the dignity of the human person. I say this because the same people who criticize Hobby Lobby and say that Hobby Lobby has no right to claim a religious exemption to Obamacare, are often the very same people who cheered for Mozilla when Eich was forced to resign.
The very people who preach acceptance, coexistence and tolerance have definitively shown the inability to follow their own ideology. This is hypocrisy.