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State Questions Corporations' Religious Rights

Publication Date: 
November 10, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle
Bob Egelko

Senior Fellow Michael McConnell comments on the right of corporations to exercise religious freedoms in The San Francisco Chronicle. 

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to review the new federal health care law's requirements for contraceptive insurance, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is urging the court not to let corporate executives invoke their religious beliefs to deny birth-control coverage to female employees.

Owners who have protected themselves from personal liability by forming corporations should not be allowed to "shield their companies from regulatory obligations based on alleged injuries to their individual religious beliefs," lawyers in Harris' office, representing California and 10 other states, told the court.


The dispute before the Supreme Court "will help determine whether we will be a nation that is mutually accommodating of differences of conscience, or whether the increasingly powerful regulatory state is going to refuse to take account of differences of opinion and run roughshod over dissenters," said Michael McConnell, a Stanford law professor, former federal appeals court judge and senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.


McConnell, of Stanford and the Hoover Institution, countered that business owners have been invoking religious rights since the earliest days of the nation, when courts allowed merchants to challenge Sunday-closing laws. If profit-making corporations can invoke ethical principles in their environmental and fair-trade policies, he said, a corporation should be entitled to the free exercise of religion.