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School of Management and Social Sciences Research Seminar

Date:
Wednesday 24th February 2016

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The Religious Freedom of Corporations

Location: G1, St Mary's University, Twickenham

Dr Stephen Copp, Visiting Professor

The evolution of corporations and their use for religious purposes are historically interlinked. The benefits of incorporation, separate legal personality, perpetual succession, ease of property ownership and litigation are valuable to those who wish to associate for business or religious purposes and restrictions on obtaining incorporation can pose a significant obstacle. It was a major advance in personal freedom in the mid- 19th Century when progressive reforms in the US and UK made it available as of right. The Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army case (2007) recognised that “[w]hile ... the Court has often referred to the essential role played by political parties in ensuring pluralism and democracy, associations formed for other purposes, including those proclaiming or teaching religion, are also important to the proper functioning of democracy.” There has been little difficulty in recognising churches and other not-for-profit organisations with relevant objects for the purpose of Article 9 of the ECHR protecting “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” even where they have corporate form, initially because they were seen as acting as a representative for their members, for example, the decision in the Church of Scientology case (1979). In contrast, such recognition has been denied to corporations that exist for profit, as in the Kustannus case (1996), an approach controversially followed in the Ashers Baking Co Ltd case (2015) (under appeal). This appears a harsh conclusion for the shareholders and directors of typically owner-managed companies who seek to conduct business activities through the corporate form in a manner authentic to their religious beliefs. An alternative approach would appear desirable and possible. The Exmoor Boat Cruises Ltd case (2014) was willing to recognise the religious freedom of a company where it was the alter ego of a person or group of persons, where to do otherwise would lead to the breaching of that person’s human rights. Furthermore, in a very different legal context, the US Hobby Lobby case (2014) held in favour of the owners of a closely held for-profit corporation who relied upon the Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993 when faced with regulations that would have required them to facilitate employee access to forms of contraception that violated their religious beliefs, in part, because protecting the rights of such corporations was seen as protecting the religious freedom of the humans who owned and controlled them. This paper argues for the religious freedom of all corporations to be protected, analyses the obstacles to operating a corporation for profit in an authentic religious fashion and makes proposals for how the religious freedom of corporations in the UK might be better protected.

All are welcome.

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Date:
Wednesday 24th February 2016

Find out more

For more information about this event please email conferences@stmarys.ac.uk or call 020 8240 8219.

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