Can a Corporation Exercise Religion? A Solution to the HHS Contraception Mandate Controversy

The question of whether a corporation can exercise religion initially seems absurd. After all, corporations do not pray nor join worshipers in the pews on Sunday. Despite this, the notion that corporations are people with certain First Amendment rights has become increasingly common in our law and political discourse. For example, while on the campaign trail in 2011, presidential candidate Mitt Romney reminded a protestor that “[c]orporations are people, my friend.” Furthermore, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court recognized that “First Amendment protection extends to corporations.” The Court stated that despite a corporation’s unique qualities, such as limited liability and perpetual life, “‘the state cannot exact as the price of those special advantages the forfeiture of First Amendment rights.’” While the Court’s analysis in Citizens United focused primarily on the notion that political speech cannot be suppressed under the First Amendment based on the “speaker’s identity,” this begs the question of whether corporations enjoy additional First Amendment rights––such as the right to free exercise of religion.