By DON VOWELL
You don’t need any other form of entertainment as long as there is news. This week I heard that animal rights group Nonhuman Rights Project is asking a New York court to recognize a chimpanzee as a legal person. Tommy, the chimp in question, is “being held captive in a shed at a used-trailer lot” in Gloversville, New York. They are not claiming he’s a person, only that he has some rights granted to a person. The science world agrees that chimpanzees are “extraordinarily complex, self-aware, and autonomous.” A chimp is a person in the eyes of the law, just like a corporation.
Hobby Lobby, as a corporation, is asking the court for exemption from complying with health care laws that require them to provide contraception, specifically “morning after” pills, as part of their insurance packages. They object on religious grounds.
Exemptions already are granted by the Affordibility Care Act (ACA) for houses of worship and religious groups, including their affiliated non-profits. These are groups created to enhance the shared religious beliefs and experience of their membership. Churches represent a unified spiritual voice. Hobby Lobby would like to be constitutionally viewed as a religious organization. Hobby Lobby is a corporation designed to make money, not to further any religious mission. The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, say that their personal faith prohibits the corporation from obeying the law. So the court must decide if a corporation has a right of religious conscience.
It is easy to agree that a community of believers should have a right to freely exercise their religion, but a corporation is not a community of believers. It is made up of shareholders, executives, and employees, and requires customers to survive. There is no shared religious belief and it is easy to make the case instead that the Greens’ refusal to comply with health care law does harm to their many employees with different theology.
Now we have chimps, corporations, and me, all claiming constitutional rights guaranteed to American persons. That could lead us into strange territory.
A corporation recognized as a religious entity could have on-site chapels. Employees and customers might be encouraged to tithe and could have prayer breaks. By offering minimum wage and no health care many of America’s largest businesses already leave their employees with prayer as their best option.
Being recognized as an American person gives you a right to vote. That is of little use to corporations who bypass the messy procedure and purchase legislation directly. You could hardly end up with a less effective Congress by allowing chimpanzees the vote. Send ‘em ballots.
Law requires American persons to pay taxes. Corporations have understood that to mean “little persons,” not megabusiness multi-billion dollar persons. Whole accounting divisions are paid to find legal ways to avoid taxes. Chimpanzees ordinarily have no income and may be excused from taxes.
American persons are obligated to take part in the defense of their country. Corporations understand their role in America’s defense as making a handsome profit by supplying the equipment needed for war. Chimpanzees have mostly been called on when volunteers were needed for being shot into space on fairly crude rockets. They probably could be better utilized as instructors in guerilla warfare.
I wish we could just start over and have American citizens be just citizens. Do you think that our founding fathers imagined that they were inventing a constitution, a grand experiment in democracy for man, select members of the animal kingdom, and commercial entities? It sounds unlikely to me, if not to the Supreme Court.
(Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)