On March 25th Free Speech For People’s Legal Director Ron Fein sat in to hear legal arguments on the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius Supreme Court Case in addition to the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Supreme Court Case. Outside were hundreds of protesters from both sides eager to voice their divided opinions about the case.

Inside the courtroom, there seemed to be a similar divide. Several justices that were behind the former Citizens United case seemed to side with Conestoga and Hobby Lobby, as Justice Scalia pointed out, “There is not a single case that says a for-profit corporation can’t make a free religion claim.”

There was also some push back from the other Justices. As Justice Sotomayor asked, “How does a corporation exercise religion?” To then pause and say, “I mean I know how it speaks” which garnered subtle laughter from the court room.

In another interesting development, the corporations’ lawyer, Paul Clement, inadvertently offered one reason why extending constitutional religious protections to for-profit corporations would diminish individuals’ religious freedom. When asked by Justice Sotomayor how the court should handle a future case involving a larger corporation, he suggested that the government could inquire into the sincerity of the corporation’s religious belief. So now instead of the people making the laws that the corporations have to follow, Conestoga and Hobby Lobby are suggesting that government officials should conduct individual examinations to determine which corporate religious beliefs are sincere and which aren’t.

Americans know the difference between a person and a corporation. But it’s not clear that the Supreme Court respects that distinction. If corporations can claim the constitutional right to a special religious exemption from the laws that everyone else has to follow, then everyone else will pay the price.

The court is expected to issue a ruling on the case in June. We will continue to post updates about the case as it develops.

[Ron Fein, FSFP Legal Director At The Supreme Court, March 25th 2014]