The legal status of corporations is in an interesting ferment. With recent corporate legal challenges to the Patient Protection Act’s requirement that health insurance cover birth control, the idea of corporate personhood is back in the news. For example, the owners of Hobby Lobby claim that the company has a religion.
Although its website has a Ministry Projects page, the corporation is a structure–a metaphorical building. Even though corporations can be established for religious purposes, their legal and physical structures do not themselves hold opinions, religious or otherwise. It’s the people that occupy that do, and their right to religious expression does deserve legal protection.
Like these corporate lawsuits, Mitt Romney’s famous statement that corporations are people blurs the distinction between corporations and human beings. (I do not believe that, as some have claimed, he meant that corporations ARE human beings, just that people inhabit corporations and benefit from them.)
This blurring is dangerous because, as the 2004 documentary The Corporation has argued, if corporations were people, many would be psychopaths. Giant psychopathic corporations with all the rights of citizens are the last thing we need!
Another important development is the dawn of benefit corporations (aka public benefit corporations). In states that have created this category of corporation, the corporation has a fiduciary commitment not only to its own bottom line but also to the community and the environment. Supporters of benefit corporations may call these the triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet.
When extreme conservatives talk of corporate rights and corporate personhood, I think Framologists should respond with corporate responsibility and the triple bottom line. When extremists say that corporations are persons before the law, we can point out that, although they do have the rights to advertise their products, enter contracts, own property, and sue, they are not and should be citizens. Citizenship is for Americans. Corporations created by American states have responsibilities to those states and to the people and natural world that make their business possible.
But what do you think?