Do Corporations Speak In Tongues?

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

—The Book of Acts, 2:4

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”                                                

—Paul the Apostle

I used to attend, quite faithfully, a Pentecostal-Charismatic church in which folks there spoke in tongues. Yes, they did. They stood up, usually during prayer time, and spoke in what sounded like a foreign language, a language many of them considered a heavenly language, such as an angel might speak, if there were angels. Many times after someone would speak to the congregation in tongues, someone else with an “interpretation” of the tongues would share it with the folks, this time in English. It was quite a phenomenon.

Now, I say all that in the context of what two corporations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do in terms of an alleged constitutional controversy involving the Affordable Care Act and religious freedom. Here is how the great SCOTUSblog reported it yesterday:

The Court granted review of a government case (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores) and a private business case (Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius).  Taking the Conestoga plea brought before the Court the claim that both religious owners of a business and the business itself have religious freedom rights, based on both the First Amendment and RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].   The Hobby Lobby case was keyed to rights under RFRA.

Noting that these particular cases don’t involve asking the court to “strike down the requirement that employers provide a full range of pregnancy-related health care under their employees’ health insurance plans,” SCOTUSblog says,

This time, the Court will be focusing only on whether the pregnancy-related care coverage can be enforced against profit-making companies — or their individual owners, when that is a very small group — when the coverage contradicts privately held religious beliefs.

It is already clear, of course, that individuals — whether they own businesses or not — do have religious beliefs that the government may not try to regulate.  But it is not yet clear, and these cases will test the issue, whether they have a right — constitutional or based on a 1993 federal law — to rely upon those beliefs in refusing to provide a kind of health care coverage that they say violates the tenets of their faith.

On the other hand, it is not clear that a business that is formed as a corporation, and engages in a strictly commercial kind of activity, can have religious beliefs and can actually base its commercial actions upon such faith principles (separate from the religious beliefs of its owners).  The Court has never ruled on that issue, but that is one of the core issues it has now agreed to consider.

Okay. So, it pretty much boils down to this: Do corporations speak in tongues? Do corporations do the kinds of things that I saw done at my old church? Can corporations stand in the midst of the congregation and speak in the tongues of angels? Or even the tongues of men?

The answer, obviously, is no they can’t. You know why they can’t? Because corporations don’t have real tongues with which they can speak in ethereal tongues. Because corporations, despite what the Supreme Court has previously said, aren’t people. They don’t have tongues to confess or brains to embrace religious beliefs, even if they happen to have human spokesmen who insist the law bend to the corporate owners’ theological dogmatism. And I believe a majority of the Court will see that corporations do not speak in tongues and are not people in that important, if possibly misguided, sense.

But it occurred to me that if the Supreme Court does decide that corporations have religious rights under the Constitution or under the law, then corporations will have truly become full persons entitled to all the benefits people have under our Constitution. Thus, if they are full, constitutionally-protected persons, they cannot therefore be “owned” by any other person, since the Thirteenth Amendment outlaws slavery. Here is what the text of that amendment says:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

So, the owners of Hobby Lobby Stores and of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation and all the other owners of corporations suing the government over the Affordable Care Act’s pregnancy-related health care mandates, should, upon winning their religious freedom case, set their corporations free.

Then all the corporations in America can say together in the tongues of men or angels: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last!”



  1. They do speak in tongues…. take your pick…forked tongue, lying tongue, deceitful tongue….and on extremely rare occasions, truthful tongue!


  2. Duane,

    Great post, as usual. But this is an interesting case at lots of different levels. The Green’s, who live here in Tulsa, and own the Hobby Lobby empire, bailed out the Oral Roberts Ministry and the University with something like $80 million. That’s a pretty hefty tax deduction. But giving money to a “church” or university is not the same a denying health benefits to employees.

    As to your point about slavery, with which I agree, consider this passage from the New Testament: Titus 2:9 ESV, “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” This may well be the attitude of Mart Green, and it is no doubt shared by many other private companies that rule by fear.

    In re the Constitution, the Industrial Age was in it’s infancy when it was written so there’s not much there on capitalism. Of course there is the power of Congress to “regulate commerce,” along with the right to make contracts and a few other things that could apply to the private sector.

    The question in this case though is whether the 1st amendment references to free speech and religious freedoms apply to private corporations. If you are have an originalist view of the Constitution, then the Bill or Rights, all of them, apply to individuals only, not to businesses. Nonetheless, things have changed over the last 200+ years. So, my remedy to this, like many other omissions in our organic law, would be to amend the Constitution to specifically address private, for-profit commercial enterprises. Of course the odds of that happening are between none and none.

    The 1st amendment begins, “Congress shall MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING . . . ” It doesn’t say anything about the Supreme Court making a law, as it often does.

    Anyway, my best guess here is Hobby Lobby wins by 5 to 4.



    • Herb,
      I didn’t know about that connection to ORU. That’s interesting, since the Oral Roberts ministry grew out of a lot of small donations given by people like my mom, not necessarily rich businessmen and women, particularly Baptist businessmen and women. It’s also interesting to note that apparently, the Greens were supplying the kind of contraceptives to employees they now object to. I find it amazing that it wasn’t until ObamaCare came along that they didn’t find it worth their time to examine what it was their corporate person was doing.

      I want to say, regarding your point about how the NT seems to underwrite the legitimacy of slavery, that isn’t that same meme used to keep wage-slaves, those working for the man every night and day, from revolting? I mean, we tell our kids that if you just work hard and play by the rules, good things will happen to you in the economy. We don’t often encourage them to change the rules, do we? Often we, as the writer of Titus is suggesting, value the status quo more than we value changing it for the better. What would have happened in our history, in the history of the world, if Titus were written like this:

      Masters are to be submissive to God and well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith by releasing their slaves, who have been set free by Jesus their Savior.

      In any case, you are correct that there will be no language written into the Constitution as you suggest, except as activist judges on the Court play around with its provisions. The originalist view would most definitely reject applying the religious liberty clause to corporations, but then consistency from originalists isn’t exactly the way they play. I do, though, believe that Justice Scalia will surprise us all and actually remain true to what’s left of his originalist vision of the Constitution, as any further retreat from it would render him nothing more than an utter fraud.

      Thus, I predict a 6-3 or possibly 7-2 ruling against the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation and I’m not sure what the tally will be in the Hobby Lobby case, which appears to rely heavily on the RFRA. I think it would be a bit messy to rule against Conestoga and for Hobby Lobby, but the tally could be less decisive, say, 5-4 against HL. I base that on the apparent fact that even if the term “person” in RFRA is rejected as applying to corporations and the Free Exercise clause, my understanding is that HL could still prevail under RFRA, its owners claiming that they are a tightly-knit group of family owners and not distant shareholders. As I said, that distinction would prove quite messy and further confuse us all, so I am going for sanity here and assuming that at least 5 justices will not add to an already mucked up interpretation of a statute that, ironically, came into being because libertarianish folks didn’t like Scalia’s ruling against a Native American peyote smoker in 1990.
      All of this, though, highlights how dumb that decision in the 2010 Citizens United case was.



  3. Well, you can color me confused. I’ve been that way ever since January, 2010 when SCOTUS declared that corporations have the rights of free speech, at least as it pertains to financially influencing elections.

    I agree with Herb, based on the Citizens United precedent, that Hobby Lobby wins 5 to 4. But, even if that happens, cognitive dissonance will remain and fester because, as Duane so colorfully muses, corporations have significant differences from mere people and can’t speak in tongues. Or can they? Therein lies the conundrum. Corporations make decisions. They have policies. They have money and can prosper or go bankrupt. They can be fined but you can’t put them in jail for malfeasance or crimes. I don’t think corporations have souls, or at least there’s no evidence of it, but maybe Hobby Lobby is growing one. Can corporations go to heaven? I wonder if Mr. Green thinks there will be a Hobby Lobby up there? Doesn’t sound any more bizarre than speaking in tongues to me.

    If corporations are people, then should they have a right to vote? If so, will it be one vote per corporation or, since they traditionally have the right to control their employees’ pay, benefits and privacy in the workplace, should they be able to cast votes equal in number to each employee? Or equal to each executive and board member? It’s not much of a stretch despite the slavery issue because Citizens United ignored the obvious discrepancy: corporations are made up of individual people and that would amount to some kind of duality. But, why not? The bible says that God is both one and three people at the same time.


    • Ah, you had to go and bring the Trinity into this, didn’t you? As if things weren’t messy enough without having to explain how God is One in Three, or is is Three in One?

      I suppose next you’ll bring up transubstantiation and how some future conservative Court (or perhaps this one) will rule that corporations, when proper prayer is applied, can change into Christ himself! Dammit, Jim!


  4. Jim —
    I believe you’ve sent us down yet another rabbit hole: Corporations are gods. Gods can do whatever they please and don’t need SCOTUS to anything beyond officially recognizing them as gods — which was accomplished with the parctical application of the Citizens United ruling. In reality we’ve been experiencing corporations ruling the world for decades.
    Especially here in the US, it sure ain’t the President. Congress is feckless at best. Nor is it the people — look at the gerrymandered abyss we have in the House. Only a god could be more powerful than the entire US and all the governments and peoples of the world put together. Now, this is not a benevolent god. Not a good of truth — or justice — or grace. It is a god of love-of-money. Once the corporations aggressively embrace this truth, SCOTUS, womens’ rights, equality and lasting civilzation be damned.


  5. Sedate Me

     /  December 9, 2013

    Corporations don’t have to speak. Their lackies in government and the media try to read their thoughts and give them what they want before they ask for it.

    Speaking, like taxes, is for the little people. How dare we drag them down to our level?


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