Given the spectacles of corporate misbehavior in recent years, and the ensuing chorus of calls for corporate social responsibility, the question of whether business should have a conscience should be a no-brainer. Most people take for granted that newspapers, for example, regularly take stands on moral issues and applaud when corporations put “people before profits.” But whether a for-profit business should have legal protection for its freedom of conscience is a hotly disputed issue currently before the Supreme Court.
The court has announced that it will grapple with this question in the new year when it hears a case concerning the objections of the Green family, who own the Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstore businesses, to the Affordable Care Act’s command that they include the so-called “morning-after pill” in their employee health benefit plans. The Greens, who are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (where I serve on the board of directors), have no conscientious objection to paying for most forms of contraceptives, but they do object on religious grounds to paying for drugs and devices that the government says may prevent implantation of a fertilized human egg. In the Greens’ view, this is an abortion, and it would be wrong for them to help it happen.