Religious freedom laws not free

By Editorial Board

Corporate personhood, a doctrine that grants businesses the same rights as U.S. citizens, has existed in the U.S. in some shape or form since before the Civil War. The freedoms a business is allowed have only grown and strengthened with several Supreme Court cases—most recently and particularly Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a decision that gifted corporations with religious freedom—backing up the idea that corporations have the same rights and freedoms as human beings.

The state of Indiana has taken full advantage of corporate personhood in recent weeks, signing into law a religious objections bill that prevents companies and their religious beliefs from being “substantially burdened” by government regulation or requirements. In its simplicity, an action or service that goes against a business’ religious ideals does not have to be accommodated, the main concern being religious beliefs leading to discrimination.

After Indiana’s successful religious freedoms law, Arkansas followed suit; a bill similar to Indiana’s was signed into law April 2, according to an April 2 NBC report. In response to the severe criticism both states received for the possibility of legalizing bigotry, Arkansas’ bill was revised prior to Governor Asa Hutchinson signing it and Indiana’s law was amended to bar discrimination of minorities—including members of the LGBTQ community.

However, the uproar that ensued across the country in reaction to these laws speaks volumes. Indiana, in particular, was hit the hardest. Not only did high profile politicians and celebrities—the likes of which included Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres—speak out against Indiana’s discriminatory law, but major corporations also condemned the state and its governor, Mike Pence. The Human Rights Campaign released a statement denouncing lawmakers, which included the endorsement of several major businesses such as Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Apple and Wells Fargo.

The uproar was and continues to be warranted—discrimination against the LGBTQ community continues to run rampant, and prior to the revisions and amendments, signing discrimination into law only exacerbates a problem millions are fighting—but there are issues that need to be addressed in order to avoid further legalizing bigotry. 

First and foremost, LGBTQ individuals must be recognized as a protected class. Until the LGBTQ community is equally protected under the law—the way religion, race, color and sex are protected from discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964—there is nothing keeping businesses from peddling bigotry. 

Though the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is tenuous in today’s society—as discrimination against race, color and sex continues to be unrestrained—without its enactment in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. would have continued to be a grossly segregated country that encouraged and allowed a culture of violence and hatred toward those who were other. That is not to say the U.S. is devoid of these issues now, but the significance of being deemed a protected class stands. 

If religion compels business owners to turn away LGBTQ customers, it only serves to mirror the discrimination black people received—and continue to receive—prior to the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 distinguished religion as a protected class as well, though, pushing it into the forefront of the debates about corporate personhood and the religious freedom laws being implemented across the country today. 

The Chronicle maintains that corporations are not and should not be recognized as autonomous entities capable of having religious beliefs. Corporations are not humans, thus they should not be allowed the right to religious freedoms and other human rights that people are still fighting to have.

Humans and U.S. citizens have the right to hold beliefs, but a corporation—group of humans—does not and cannot all agree on something as nebulous and contentious as religion, particularly if those beliefs impinge upon the freedoms of others. Businesses can have missions and ideals they choose to pursue, but corporations should not trump the rights of another human.