Friday, December 6, 2013

Employers of Religion

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

People have freedom of religion guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Lately there has been controversy—for example, in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby—about whether corporations need such a freedom as well. I can help answer that: No. They do not.

People can already assert individual rights to religion. When a person creates a corporation, he no more needs additional religious rights for that corporation than a person with a megaphone needs additional free speech rights for that megaphone. A corporation is not a new and distinct human being.

Corporations are avatars that represent people, performing actions on their behalf, but with augmented strength. But, in so doing, they are like the “power loader” exoskeleton donned by the character Ripley in the movie Alien, or like the superhero armor worn by Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. These vehicles magnify the power of their wearers over others.

It all begins with an understanding that the ones with the brains, with the religion, with the political intent, and with the ethical responsibility are real, natural people who own these corporations. Everything else about corporations is just a vehicle for packaging and focusing power under their control. With rights come responsibilities, and if there is to be neither desire nor mechanism to hold corporations to the simplest social graces that we would demand of any civil person, then we must not think of them as we do civil people.

Consolidated and magnified power, unfettered by the social graces, does not require protection. Indeed, those without magnified power, those at the mercy of such power, are the ones needing protection. That's why we have rights at all—so that puny little people like any of us can stand up against bigger entities, like companies and governments. To say that then companies and governments need the same rights as ordinary people is to make a mockery of the very purpose of our rights. It is to diminish and dismantle human rights, not to extend them.

If a corporation imposes ethical choices upon employees, that's not the corporation protecting its natural rights. That's a person or a gang of people using the magnified power of employment to coerce other people not to follow their own religious beliefs. We've learned to recognize such coercion in the case of sexual harassment, and to understand that there is a responsibility of the powerful in an employment situation not to coerce the behavior of the weak. This is really no different.

The analogy may confuse you if you are comparing religion to sexual harassment, but that's not the right point of view. Both sex and religion can be beautiful things, but only when freely elected. Either forced sex or forced religion is an atrocity. An exercise of power, devoid of joy. A crime.

We allow an employer to use threats of firing to maintain a certain degree of order within a company, but only as long as that order relates to the business. We do not and must never allow employers to use any such threats to coerce behavior outside the scope of the business.

As a free citizen of the United States, you may choose what parts of your religion you like or don't. You can elect to be Jewish and yet perhaps you eat cheeseburgers. And yes, you can be Catholic and still use birth control. These are personal choices you make. Your religious advisors may even be offended. But that's between you and them, not between you and your employer. If your employer is allowed to intervene, even if he thinks he's just exercising his freedom of religion, he's using his magnified power to disallow you from exercising your own.

And that's the crux of it, the meta-rule of religion: Your religious rights stop when they start to infringe mine. We each must leave space for one another. Birth control is a personal choice, and something we each need to decide for ourselves. Employees do not make birth control decisions for their employers, and the same must be true in reverse. Any pretense that the company has a religious need separate from and beyond that of the owners just distracts from the fact that the owner's sphere of personal influence is being allowed to be bigger than by any right it should be.

Moreover, it will not stop there. The issues in question are not about the company being asked to pay for birth control, but merely about a company being asked to pay for access to a company that might pay for birth control. There is already an indirection in place. This indirection is really no different than the fact that the company is paying wages to a person who might pay for birth control, and the next natural step is to allow the company to control what happens with those wages.

It is simply not the company's business in either case. Health care is needed by employees, and it's up to each employee's sense of ethics and religion to elect what is appropriate, within the bounds of the law, to satisfy that need. For a company to dictate more is to either privately dictate a person's ethics and religion or to privately dictate the bounds of law. Either is unacceptable.

Corporations are not people. They do not get offended. Owners of companies get offended. And, if we let them, they'll use their artificial shells of power, like the image of the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, to make their sense of being offended more seem bigger, more important, and more menacing in order to coerce behavior. Corporations might dictate rules that must be followed by employees to keep their jobs. These powers may often be justified as needed for the correct function of the business, and the quality of its product. But there is no correct function of any business in play with the use of birth control—except, ironically, that some businesses might be adversely affected if the people working for them cannot avoid pregnancy and become distracted by an inability to plan the size and timing of their respective families.

Birth control must be the choice of the employee because it is an activity beyond the scope of employment. There is no defensible corporate interest in keeping employees from having control over family matters. It is a naked abuse of power by certain business owners over their employees and a perfect illustration of why corporations must not be accorded some artificially drawn freedom of religion.

Corporate religion is just institutionalized coercion trying to take hold.

We the Flesh-and-Blood People must draw a line.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This third and final part of a 3-part series was originally published December 6, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman. The first part was Corporations Are Not People. The second part was We The People (and Corporations).

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, incorporation, corporations, corporate personhood, legal personhood, legal person, legal personality, taxation, crimes, punishment, imprisonment, life, death, death penalty, urination, trickle down, census, social security, robbery, slavery, human trafficking, murder, pro-life, childhood, contracts, travel, passport, visa, home country, citizen, citizenship, speech, religion, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, religious freedom, philosophy, ethics, vote, voter, voting, run for office, running for office, candidate, elect, election, elected, office holder


Note that even if you disagree with me, and think that a corporation really is a distinct person, the problem is that such so-called legal people are veritably required under stockholder theory to behave sociopathically. See my article Fiduciary Duty vs. The Three Laws of Robotics for an elaboration of why. In such cases, where legal people are neither asked nor expected to exhibit other-than-selfish behavior, special restrictions to hold that selfish behavior in check, not special encouragement to be as free as possible in the exercise of that selfish behavior, would seem more appropriate. The notion of a free society is based precisely in the assumption that most of us will not behave sociopathically. It is a calculated gamble that we will tend to do well by each other if allowed the chance. It would be irrational to make such a gamble situations where we do not have such an expectation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

We The People (and Corporations)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Corporations are “legal people.” I explained yesterday why this made no sense. But it's our current jurisprudence, which is to say it's how we do things ’round here, and that sad fact dates back to the 19th century to some very old US Supreme Court cases, particularly the 1819 case Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward and the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. So, unfortunately, there's been a lot of time in the interim for this badly conceived legal philosophy to work its ugly tendrils into the fabric of our society.

Before Copernicus figured out that the planets revolve around the Sun instead of the Earth, the orbits of the planets were thought to twist and turn in baroque ways. It wasn't true, but it seemed that way to astronomers of the day because they were building on an inappropriate foundation. The change in law from a “person” being just a person, to a “person” being either a person or something that is really very clearly not a person, is like going back in time to those days when we thought planets didn't revolve around the sun.

Words are the foundation upon which we build our civilization. The specific words we use are arbitrary in origin, but once chosen and used, our brains become wired to have certain memories, associations, and intuitions about them. Although corporate personhood has existed for ages, the practice of asserting it in order to gain far-reaching political power seems more recent. It started out as a way of asserting the legitimacy or manner in which corporations sign contracts or pay taxes, issues one might reasonably want to clarify for corporations, whether they are people or not. But more recently it has been used to imply that we should give rights or make accommodations to corporations simply because “they are people.” After all, people have rights and corporations are people, so—voilà!—corporations have rights, right?

Well, no. Not right. We are wired to react in certain reflexive ways to primitive concepts. We learn and remember a great many lessons and promises in life using words. So if we can change the meaning of word, do all the sentences we've ever spoken using that word still apply?

We know things about “people,” for example. As speakers of English, we come to associate those things we know with the words “person” or “people.” We are taught that “killing” is wrong, but especially the killing of “people” matters. We have laws against killing “people.” We feel uneasy around someone who even might do that. But if learn that a corporation is a person, must we suddenly feel the same kind of revulsion about someone killing a corporation that we have been raised to feel about them killing a person? Should we feel personally at risk sitting at dinner next to someone has killed a corporation? Could we be next?

Words are all we have to describe the rules we've agreed to live by in our society. We guard the text of those agreements carefully, so someone doesn't just edit the words in the night and expect us to comply with a new set of rules. But if the meaning of the words in those agreements can change out from underneath us, we can end up with different rules even without the text of the rules changing. That must not happen.

We must know when shifts of meaning are happening. We must have the right to review and approve the consequences of changes in meaning. It's not sufficient for someone to tell us that such review has already happened under a different understanding of those words. When such tricks are played with words, our gut feelings are easily manipulated.

It occurs to me that I don't know why I'm even bothering to be upset. There's an easy way out of this, much easier than all this fussing. I should just talk to the writers of a few dictionaries and get the definition of “absurdity” changed to mean “brilliant idea” and then the absurdities that characterize the linguistic landscape of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, giving freedom of speech to corporations, and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, giving freedom of religion to corporations, would magically become brilliant ideas. And then, perhaps, I'll no longer care.

But can embracing and exploiting such drifts in meaning for tactical advantage really be the answer? Is the Dictionary to be our new battleground? It's too hard to control the Supreme Court, so why not just buy a few publishing houses and change the Dictionary? Is this how wars are now to be fought? If so, we need to call a halt to it before we hurt ourselves irreparably. Santa Clara County notwithstanding, this is no way to run a railroad.

And where are the peddlers of original intent when we need them? No doubt they're busy changing the definition of “original” to more flexibly suit some Machiavellian end, and haven't time or interest to help us. Because as it looks now, it's likely to be Scalias of the court, the self-professed keepers of original intent, who seem to me most likely to afford freedom of religion to corporations. What irony, or perhaps just good old-fashioned hypocrisy, in that.

We need to do something. We The People, I mean.

People People. Not corporate people.

If you catch my drift.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This second part of a 3-part series was originally published December 4, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman. The first part was Corporations Are Not People. The series concludes with Employers of Religion.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, political, political battleground, santa clara county vs southern pacific railroad, trustees of dartmouth college vs woodward, corporation, incorporate, incorporated, corporate person, corporate personhood, legal person, legal people, copernicus, copernican, pre-copernican, killing a corporation, gut feeling, language, dictionary, original intent, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, corporate speech, corporate religion

Monday, December 2, 2013

Corporations Are Not People

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

[Liberty Bell]

Corporations are not people, my friends, no matter what Mitt Romney says.

Corporations are corporations. People are people.

If corporations were people, they would obey the same tax laws as regular people do. Instead, they have a separate set of rules. What an amazing irony, given that “legal personhood” arose, in part, from a desire for equal protection under tax law.

If corporations were people, when they broke the law, they would be punished, not just by fines but sometimes by imprisonment or death.

If corporations were people, they could not urinate in public. This would be a relief to the employees of certain corporations, who are presently asked to enjoy humiliating public displays of trickle down. We'd insist corporations use a rest room like everyone else. Although that would usually require knowing their gender. If something doesn't have a gender, that's a big clue that the something is not actually a person.

If corporations were people, they would be counted in the US census.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

 —13th Amendment
    to US Constitution

If corporations were people, some would be old enough to receive Social Security.

If corporations were people, taking money out of them would be called robbery, not profit or dividends. Owners would surely justify this robbery by saying the corporation was a dependent body, but we would see quickly enough that it was the owner that was dependent on the corporation, not vice versa.

If corporations were people, other people could not buy, sell, trade or own them. We don't let people own people in the US. We call that slavery. Every person controls his own destiny.

If corporations were people, they could not be dissolved by other people. We'd call that murder.

If corporations were people, then from the moment of their very conception, their ultimate existence would be assured—no backing out allowed. If any other person interfered with or otherwise aborted plans to sign articles of incorporation, pro-life groups would insist that was murder, too.

If corporations were people, they would have a childhood. During their first eighteen years, they would attend school and learn how to be good citizens. They would not be allowed to sign contracts.

If corporations were people, they could not exist simultaneously in multiple countries at the same time. We would know when they were in one country or another. They would need passports and visas to move around, just like people do.

If corporations were people, we'd give them freedom of speech, but no more such freedom than we give any other person.

If corporations were people, there would be limits on how much they could donate to political campaigns. Because people have such limits.

If corporations were people, some could even vote or run for office—if they were old enough and born or living in the right place. But if we caught them coercing the vote of another person, perhaps an employee, we'd throw them in jail.

If corporations were people, they might need freedom of religion. But not so that they could coerce the rights of others, and instead so that they could explore what they thought of life, death, and ethics, independent of the people who gave birth to them. Religion is a very personal choice we should each make for ourselves, not owners for corporations, nor corporations for employees.

If corporations were people, I wouldn't have to write this article. Because when two things are the same thing, so many questions like this just don't come up. And yet the questions keep coming and this list could go on. Corporations are not people in so many ways.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

This first part of a 3-part series was originally published December 2, 2013 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman. The next part is We The People (and Corporations). The series concludes with Employers of Religion.

The public domain liberty bell graphic came from

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, incorporation, corporations, corporate personhood, legal personhood, legal person, legal personality, taxation, crimes, punishment, imprisonment, life, death, death penalty, urination, trickle down, census, social security, robbery, slavery, human trafficking, murder, pro-life, childhood, contracts, travel, passport, visa, home country, citizen, citizenship, speech, religion, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, religious freedom, philosophy, ethics, vote, voter, voting, run for office, running for office, candidate, elect, election, elected, office holder