Caroline Mala Corbin

  • December 4, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Caroline Mala Corbin, Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case centers on a cake, but at stake is the future of LBGTQ civil rights. The main issue is whether Colorado’s public accommodations law violates the Free Speech Clause.

    Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to sell his baking services to Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a Denver couple seeking a wedding cake. He was fined for violating Colorado’s public accommodations law, which bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places open to the public. Phillips is religiously opposed to same-sex marriage, and believes that to avoid condoning same-sex marriage, Jesus himself would refuse to employ his carpentry skills to make a bed for this couple. Phillips argues that forcing him to make a cake for Craig and Mullins would violate the Free Speech Clause by compelling him to use his creative talents to express approval of same-sex marriage. He is wrong.

  • July 1, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Caroline Mala Corbin, Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law

    The United States has made tremendous progress on LGBTQ rights. We are, after all, celebrating the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges and marriage equality. White House executive orders and EEOC guidelines have also expanded anti-discrimination protections. At the same time, there is still much that needs to be done.  Congress has not amended civil rights law to bar LGBTQ discrimination in employment, education, housing, or public accommodations. Even when such protection exists, individual, organizations and businesses have claimed they have a religious right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. In particular, the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. expanded the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), raising concerns about RFRA’s use as a means to discriminate in the name of religious freedom.

    Hobby Lobby was a challenge to the Affordable Care Act requirement that large employers include FDA-approved contraception in their health care plans. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a billion-dollar chain of arts and crafts stores with thousands of employees, argued that it was religiously opposed to certain forms of contraception and that consequently this contraception benefit violated its RFRA rights. Under RFRA, “persons” are entitled to exemptions from federal laws that impose a substantial burden on their religious conscience unless the challenged law passes strict scrutiny. A law passes strict scrutiny if it advances a compelling state goal in a narrowly tailored way. While RFRA itself applies to federal law, many states have counterparts that apply to state law.

  • March 23, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Caroline Mala Corbin, professor of law, University of Miami School of Law. Corbin is the author of an ACS Issue Brief, The Contraception Mandate Accommodated: Why the RFRA Claim in Zubik v. Burwell Fails.

    Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Zubik v. Burwell. Zubik represents the second challenge to the contraception benefit of the Affordable Care Act, which requires that health care plans include all FDA-approved contraception without any cost sharing. In Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, for-profit businesses with religious objections won a RFRA challenge to it. In this term’s Zubik v. Burwell, it is religiously affiliated nonprofits like Baptist universities and Catholic Charities challenging the contraception benefit.

    There is, however, is a major difference between Hobby Lobby and Zubik: These religiously affiliated nonprofits are already exempt from the contraception mandate. Once a nonprofit certifies that it is religiously opposed to contraception and notifies either their insurance carriers or the Department of Health and Human Services, the responsibility for contraception coverage shifts to private insurance companies. The nonprofit does not have to provide, pay for, or even inform their employees or students of the separate coverage.

    Despite the ability to opt out of contraception coverage, many nonprofits complain that the religious accommodation itself imposes a substantial religious burden in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). According to these nonprofits, providing notice of their objections triggers the provision of contraception to their employees and students, thus making them complicit in sin.

    Their RFRA claim cannot succeed. RFRA requires that the contraception regulations impose a substantial religious burden and fail strict scrutiny, and neither requirement is met. First, filing paperwork to receive an exemption is not a substantial burden on the nonprofits’ religious exercise. The nonprofits’ claims to the contrary are based on a legal mistake. Their belief that they are complicit in the sin of contraception use rests on the assumption that their written refusal triggers the provision of contraception. As a matter of law, they are wrong. Their paperwork does not cause contraception coverage. The Affordable Care Act does. It is federal law, not the completion of any form, that creates the insurance companies’ obligation to cover contraception. All the paperwork does is extricate the nonprofit organizations from the coverage. Although courts must defer to the nonprofits’ interpretation of religious theology, courts should not defer to their interpretation of federal law.

  • July 11, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Caroline Mala Corbin, Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law

    There is much to lament in the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, which held that first, closely held for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby may bring religious liberty claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and second, that the contraception mandate – the requirement that health insurance plans provide contraception at no additional cost – violated Hobby Lobby’s RFRA rights. Thanks to the decision, owners who are religiously opposed to contraception may exclude it from their employees’ health plan.  For several reasons, the winners are corporate owners, and the losers are all the men and women who must work for them. 

    First,  Hobby Lobby allows owners of for-profit corporations to have their cake and eat it too. One of the main reasons people incorporate their businesses is to gain the protection of limited liability, which shields owners from the liabilities of their corporation. For example, the debts of the corporation are not the debts of the owners. After Hobby Lobby, owners are considered separate and distinct from their corporations for purposes of limited liability, but one and the same for the purposes of religious rights. In other words, the owners and corporations are alter-egos when it is convenient, and not when it is not. That is not how the law is supposed to work.

    Second, at the same time, Hobby Lobby virtually ignores the rights of employees. The Justices could barely bring themselves to acknowledge that a religious exemption created any kind of burden on the thousands of workers who just lost their contraception coverage. Instead, in a footnote (a placement in keeping with the Court’s marginalization of employees), the Court characterized the contraception mandate as a burden but a potential religious exemption as merely the loss of a benefit. Apparently, only corporate owners are burdened. The bottom line is that the owners’ rights are privileged over their workers’ rights. Never mind that health insurance is part of employees’ compensation, and owners should not be able to dictate how employees spend their own earnings. And never mind that sincere religious obligations can point towards contraception use as well as away from it, as people may have faith-based reasons for limiting their family size.

  • March 20, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Caroline Mala Corbin, Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law; author of the ACS Issue Brief, “Corporate Religious Liberty: Why Corporations Are Not Entitled to Religious Liberty,” and “Corporate Religious Liberty
     
    While the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was the center of attention during the first round of constitutional challenges to it, its “contraception mandate” stars in two cases currently before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Under health care reform, large employers must now provide employees with health insurance that covers basic preventive care. For women, basic preventive care includes access to FDA-approved contraception. The Obama administration has totally exempted churches from this requirement, and essentially exempted nonprofits from it, so it really only applies to for-profit corporations. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp., a cabinet manufacturer, argue that they are religiously opposed to certain forms of contraception and that consequently the contraception mandate violates their religious liberty.
     
    Actually, there are two types of plaintiffs in these cases. First, there are the for-profit corporations who claim that the contraception mandate violates the corporations’ religious rights. Second, there are the owners of the for-profit corporations who claim that the contraception mandate violates their individual religious rights. Both plaintiffs should lose, but for different reasons. The corporations should lose because for-profit corporations do not and should not have religious liberty rights. The owners of the corporations should lose because their claims have no merit.
     
    For-Profit Corporations
     
    Starting with the corporate plaintiffs: the reasons individuals and churches are granted religious liberty rights simply do not apply to for-profit corporations. Why do we protect individual religious conscience?  Religious people might respond that we protect individual religious conscience so that people can fulfill their obligations to God. Failure to do so can cause great suffering now and in the hereafter. Corporations, of course, cannot not suffer, have no soul, and certainly have no relationship with God. Secular people might respond that we protect people’s decisions about their spirituality because it is a way of respecting their individual autonomy and inherent dignity. But while people are ends in themselves and possess an inviolable dignity, corporations do not. They are merely a means to an end, and possess no inherent dignity that we must respect. In short, religious rights only make sense when applied to actual people. Corporations lack the fundamentally human attributes, such as a relationship with God or inviolable dignity, which justify religious liberty protection.