The five-justice majority in Hobby Lobby finds that closely held family companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood have religious liberty rights. There is nothing in their reasoning that would limit this startling conclusion to closely held corporations. In fact, the majority undercuts its own attempt to downplay the consequences of its extreme ruling.
Rather than come up with a principled way to distinguish a closely held company from the large, publicly traded corporations that exercise such enormous influence over nearly every aspect of our lives, they punt: They say that large, publicly held businesses are not likely to make religious liberty claims because “the idea that unrelated shareholders—including institutional investors with their own set of stakeholders—would agree to run a corporation under the same religious beliefs seems improbable.” [page 29 of majority opinion]
Yet on the very next page, the majority seems to undercut this argument, pointing out that state laws provide “a ready means for resolving any conflicts by, for example, dictating how a corporation can establish its governing structure.” Generally under those laws the corporate board and officers speak for the corporation, even if there are millions of shareholders with countless positions on various issues. As a practical matter, the shareholders don’t need to agree on religious issues or anything else.
So no one should be surprised after this ruling when a large, publicly traded corporation asserts its religious liberty under the Religious Liberty Restoration Act to get a “pass” from a law it does not want to comply with.