In his majority opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito noted that a “corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.” While some lawmakers and bureaucrats seem to think the employees and owners of corporations leave their individual rights at the door, both the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — the federal law that grants religious liberties beyond those in the First Amendment — say otherwise. Accordingly, based on the RFRA, the Supreme Court upheld the religious-freedom rights of corporations to opt out of a provision of Obamacare requiring businesses to include contraception in their employee health plans.
Conservatives and libertarians lauded Alito’s decision and generally oppose laws that compel business owners to engage in conduct that contradicts their beliefs. They have argued that the government should not coerce bakers, florists, or photographers to provide services for weddings that violate their moral and religious beliefs. Some defending the business owners may not necessarily agree with the beliefs in question, but oppose government coercion as a matter of principle.
Conservatives and libertarians also strongly object to reviving the Fairness Doctrine, under which the federal government compelled radio and television stations to provide air time to opposing viewpoints.
Those same conservatives and libertarians advocating freedom of conscience in business transactions should be alarmed by a proposed mandate that would effectively act as a “Fairness Doctrine” for banks. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which charters and regulates many of the nation’s banks, proposed a rule in late November that would bar banks from turning down loans or other financial services “based on . . . [the] personal beliefs” of a bank’s owners or employees.
The OCC rule would make what it deems “fair access to financial services” an entitlement that banks must provide. Advocates are pushing the regulation to counter some banks’ bowing to demands of liberal groups by declining to service “unwoke” industries such as guns and oil. But the proposed rule also makes it clear that banks would have to provide “fair access” to causes and industries associated with the political left, including abortion clinics.
In fact, the rule and the OCC officials pushing it explicitly mention abortion clinics and “family-planning” so often that it comes across as obsessive. In the text of its regulation (page 14), the OCC states that “under this proposed rule, if a covered bank offers cash management services or commercial lending and specifically provides such services to a large retailer, the bank would be required to offer such services to any other lawful business (e.g., an electric utility or a family planning organization [emphasis added]) on proportionally equal terms.”
In case readers of the rule are confused about what a “family planning organization” might be, a footnote (on page 7 of the rule) links to a Bloomberg Businessweek story entitled, “Why It’s So Hard to Run an Abortion Clinic,” which bemoans the difficulties a Kansas abortion provider supposedly faced in getting credit from a bank. Not to put too fine a point on it, OCC Acting Comptroller Brian Brooks and chief economist Charles Calomiris wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Many of the targeted industries are those unpopular on the political left. But we’ve also heard allegations of banks being pressured to cut off programs and business disfavored on the right, such as Planned Parenthood.” Under the proposed rule, banks could no longer pay attention to such outside criticism of such a business and must approve a loan or other financial service if it meets an unspecified “safety and soundness” criteria.
Read the full article at National Review.