Sunday, April 5, 2015

Article Summary: After Hobby Lobby: The “Religious For-Profit” and the Limits of the Autonomy Doctrine

      Before I begin this summary, I think it is important to explain certain terms used in this article.  In this article, Carmella distinguishes between churches, religious nonprofits, religious for-profits,[i] and closely-held for-profit corporations engaged in secular endeavors but operating according to the owners’ religious principles. The first two terms describe entities which are clearly religiously focused.  The last two terms, however, encompass distinctly profit-motivated entities with varying traces of “religious character.”  With these differences in mind, Carmella considers the implications of the Hobby Lobby decision.  
            After Hobby Lobby: The “Religious For-Profit” and the Limits of the Autonomy Doctrine considers the various ways our courts have interpreted and enforced our constitutional right to free exercise of religion.  It also explains how enforcement of this constitutional right differs based on the entity seeking relief.  The article places particular emphasis on the autonomy doctrine and the “balancing framework” (the two devices frequently used by the court).   In this article, Carmella compares theses two paradigms in light of the Hobby Lobby decision and explains why—moving forward—religious for-profit companies pursing free exercise protection should be confined to a balancing framework.  
            The autonomy doctrine is founded on the notion that churches should be able to “manage their own institutions free of government interference.”  It, thus, protects the institutional freedoms of churches and religious nonprofits without much regard to how other individuals or groups may be impacted.  This doctrine can, consequently, have severe consequences.  In fact, it often insulates claims of discretion from being adjudicated.  The doctrine, further, requires no “rational basis” in the making of decisions and the Supreme Court has gone so far as to say that when the autonomy doctrine applies, even “appallingly arbitrary” decisions are not justiciable.
            In contrast to the autonomy doctrine is the “balancing” approach.  Under this framework, courts consider the free-exercise arguments of entities and persons with full attention to how it would impact other individuals and groups.  This approach, consequently, ensures that the basic legal rights of individuals and groups are not commandeered for arbitrary or unjust arbitrary reasons.
The article then explains why the autonomy doctrine should not be used in cases involving for-profits entities.   She notes first that churches and nonprofits—the intended beneficiaries of the autonomy doctrine— are mission-driven rather than profit-driven.  Their focus, consequently, is solely on facilitating “individual and collective religious belief[s].”  In contrast, for-profit entities are primarily concerned with making a profit.  This interest in making money forces for-profit entities to focus first and foremost on business initiatives and concerns, causing religious matters to play only a secondary role.   For-profit entities, further, have a significant influence over how individuals access goods, services, and even jobs.  Given this power, for-profits should not be able to limit basic legal rights and/or economic opportunities without regard to those they employ and serve.  This need for consideration is especially important to employees and customers who lack alternative means of accessing employment, goods, or services.  Finally, Carmella notes that extending the autonomy doctrine will dilute its protections across the board.  Courts forced to apply the doctrine to for-profits will find ways of chiseling down its severity in order to mitigate the impact on others.  This, in turn, will affect the protections afforded to the core religious institutions like churches. 
In conclusion, this article demonstrates that the balancing framework should be applied to for-profit free exercise claims.  The approach allows courts to consider the alleged burdens on religious exercise without ignoring the rights and interests of the other individuals involved.   This ensures that the strict protections offered by the autonomy Doctrine are not abused in the commercial sector nor diluted in the church and religious nonprofit context.
- Kelly Gorman

[i] According to Carmella, a religious for-profit is “an entity with explicit religious identity, mission, and undeniable ‘religious character’ that provides either: 1) religious goods and services; or 2) education, health care or social services more characteristic of a traditional nonprofit.