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CONSCIENCE: Do Corporations Have a Conscience?

Monday, Oct. 28, 2013

In the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in particular the provision that companies must offer a wide range of contraceptives under their coverage, those in opposition are taking to the courts with a novel argument: the ACA violates their companies’ religious conscience. Three appellate courts have heard the case—two striking down that religious expression applies to corporations and one left undecided—meaning this issue may be on its way to the Supreme Court. Corporations have a long precedent of being considered “persons” on a range of issues, but many fear the consequences of granting corporations free expression of religion. For one, corporations could select new hires, as well as terminate employees, for partaking in perfectly legal behavior that happens to violate the company’s religious code; for example, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, or marrying someone of the same sex. On the other hand, the plaintiffs claim that their companies are an extension of their religious lives and should be granted the same protections. So what do you think? Do corporations have a “religious conscience?”

  Patrick: Granting corporations a “conscience” would be worst-case scenario for promoting ethical business practices. For one, the plaintiffs’ argument is self-defeating. They argue that their companies’ have religious standing by extension of their own individual rights to religious expression, not by virtue of the corporation itself. Religious reflection, prayer, and decision making do not happen at the corporate level: it’s the people that make up the corporation that engage in matters of conscience. “Corporate conscience” guarantees only one outcome, the complete undermining of the conscience of its employees. Perhaps the biggest impediment to ethical business is the belief that individual autonomy is reserved only for those at highest pay grade. Corporations are made up of people. It’s time we remember that.

Can corporations pray? The next expansion of corporate 'personhood' (LA Times)

A Framework for Thinking Ethically (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)



Comments Comments

Reinhold Schlieper said on Nov 22, 2013
Religion at best provides a guideline for an individual's ethical choices. It never provides guidelines for running someone else's lives. A corporation's offering contraceptives might indeed be something unethical from a particular religious perspective, but the individual then should resist buying these products or working for the corporations. The individual and the corporation, however, should resist the temptation to manhandle other people's choices. To me that is the most important reflection. Things change where one does harm to others. So, one cannot argue that a corporation has a right to harmful experimentation on animal or human life. And that line of demarcation is where one would debate to seek clarity. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Patrick Coutermarsh said on Nov 22, 2013
Reinhold, good points. I'd agree there may be a line that corporations (and their management/owners) are entitled to draw in some cases. Then again, as you pointed out, it then comes down to where that line is. Interestingly, even the notion of "doing harm to others" would be a point of contention here, as each side in the abortion/contraceptive debate disagrees on whether the embryo/zygote/fetus counts as a person or other. --Patrick - Like
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