On June 30th, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s suit to be exempted from the ObamaCare mandate forcing companies to provide contraceptive coverage to employees, including the controversial Plan B, or “morning after,” drugs. Many conservative business owners equate these drugs to abortion since they’re designed to terminate a pregnancy within hours of conception.
The primary argument to the court is whether the owners or management of a corporation has the same rights to freedom of religion as an individual. The Obama administration has already set exceptions for various religious non-profit organizations, which, other than their non-profit status, are structured similarly to their for-profit counterparts.
In March of this year, according to TheHill.com, the U.S. House of Representatives, “Approved the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act, H.R. 1814. The bill allowed people avoid buying health insurance under ObamaCare if they could cite a religious reason. People seeking an exemption would have to include sworn statements in their tax returns explaining their objection to health insurance.” In effect, all they needed to get out of paying the federal healthcare mandate (tax) was a note from home.
A further question is whether there is a fundamental business difference between a non-profit corporation and a for-profit corporation? The practical answer is, no. Charity or not, a corporation is created to protect the individual operators from legal responsibility with regard to the business. Most non-profit filings are for tax and donation purposes, a process that seems outdated and inefficient with the advent of mega churches and multi-billion-dollar evangelical organizations.
In America, there are countless religiously-focused, non-profit corporations worth millions more than some of the largest for-profit businesses. The Christian television network, Daystar, for example has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a “church,” according to NPR.com news. Celebrity, sometimes politician evangelist Pat Robertson and the late Billy Graham registered with the IRS as “religious organizations,” making them exempt from most taxes. All they had to do was file disclosure papers.
According to available records, NPR.com reports that the top three evangelical television broadcasters - Christian Broadcast Network, Trinity Broadcasting Network and Daystar Television — have a combined net worth of more than a quarter of a billion dollars. It is unknown whether the corporations that operate these broadcasters have filed for religious exemption under the healthcare reform laws.
The question persists, however, that if the only difference between a for-profit corporation and these mega non-profits is an earnings disclosure, why have the distinction at all? Certainly there are for-profit companies that give away millions of dollars in charitable funds each year but still have to comply with the law in every respect. Why then are religious non-profit organizations exempt from anything, much less a controversial healthcare mandate that has American small business struggling to comply or face bankrupting penalties?
The court’s latest decision with regard to religious exemption could have long-reaching implications, and not just in the healthcare arena. Giving a for-profit entity the same constitutional protections provided to non-profit religious groups could cause a flood of lawsuits ranging from tax law to equal employment regulations. Once again, major non-profits have million-dollar earners at the top, private jets, limousines and pretty much every other extravagance thought only to exist in for-profit American business.
If a church - any church – can make a case for religious freedom from legal mandates, why can’t a business owner cite his or her – or their – own religious beliefs for the same purposes? Is the constitution not written for everyone or does it exist specifically to meet the needs of religious groups so they can avoid taxes and dodge the law at their convenience?
This argument poses a great many questions and there will likely be countless more as ObamaCare reaches further corners of commerce. But, if that’s not enough to chew on, here’s another one. What happens if a Muslim, Jewish or non-Christian group requests exemption as well? Will the Christian right fight against their having the same protections?
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer and contributor for WDTN-TV2’s LIVING DAYTON program. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.