Can you make money and be religious? The Obama administration and a few courts have said no — at least in the context of forcing business owners to violate their religion by purchasing abortion-inducing drugs for their employees. Thankfully, most courts have rejected this view, leaving individuals and their businesses free to go to work without checking their conscience at the door.
The question is not about corporations. We know corporations can exercise religion because houses of worship and other religious organizations are corporations. The Supreme Court has repeatedly protected religious liberty for corporations. The question is really about money, and whether the government can force groups that earn money to single-mindedly pursue profits, without regard for any other value.
We regularly encounter businesses making decisions of conscience. Chipotle recently decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts’ policy on openly gay scoutmasters. It was “the right thing to do,” Chipotle said.
Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters.
You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them. Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living. Does anyone really want a society filled with organizations that can only focus on profits and are barred from thinking of the greater good?
For many, their conscience is informed by religious views about activities they can or cannot participate in. Some Jewish store owners cannot sell leavened bread at certain times of the year. Some Muslim truck drivers cannot transport alcohol. Some Catholic prison workers cannot participate in executions.
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If religious freedom means anything, it means that these people — just like Chipotle, Starbucks and everyone else in our society — are allowed to earn a living and run a business according to their values. In a tolerant society, we should just accept that our neighbors will have different beliefs, and that government-enforced conformity is rarely the best answer to this diversity.
LifeNews Note: Mark L. Rienzi is Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law professor at The Catholic University of America, and author of God and the Profits: Is There Religious Liberty for Money-Makers?