In the 1931 version of the movie "Frankenstein," Dr. Henry Frankenstein, portrayed by Colin Clive, looks on as the hand of his creation slowly rises, prompting him to say:

"It's alive. It's alive. ... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive! ... Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!"

I imagined similar took place after five Supreme Court justices ruled that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.

The five justices have given life to a corporate monster as they methodically endow it with rights and privileges once reserved exclusively for individuals.

In 2010, the court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee that corporations are people, too. It expanded on the ruling of Buckley v. Valeo (1976) that equated freedom of speech with political contributions.

This meant, by virtue of having more money, corporations, independent expenditures, labor organizations and others have more free speech than the individual.

This week, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the 5-4 majority is now saying corporations also possess more religious liberty than the individual. The court limited its ruling to "closely held" corporations, but such entities constitute roughly 90 percent of U.S. companies.


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In the public discourse, Supreme Court rulings are usually argued in a micro context. This serves to equate how one feels about the ruling based solely on the outcome.

But that is a democratic immaturity that will ultimately erode the constitutional values that the country was founded upon. How one feels personally is the false refuge to constitutional interpretation.

Taking the Constitution seriously can (and should) cause one to hold seemingly contradictory positions -- requiring at times support for issues with which one may philosophically disagree while opposing that which they might otherwise support.

How does a for-profit corporation, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, trump the rights of myriad employees whose views differ widely? The purpose of the act was to protect religious individuals and organizations against government interference with the practice of their faith, not corporations circumventing an existing law based on how it feels personally.

Assuming momentarily that one took serious Hobby Lobby's claims for religious freedom, as did the five justices, how does it square with arguing that providing contraception to women under the Affordable Care Act violated their religious liberty, when Hobby Lobby invests in companies that manufacture the items they claim violate their religious freedom.

According to the Constitution, shouldn't a for-profit organization claiming religious liberty be oxymoronic?

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority opined:

"The purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees." He added: "Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them."

Would reasonable people accept this ruling if a Muslim company fired those who violated its dietary restrictions or Jewish businesses demanded that non-Jews work on Sunday? Could they claim religious liberty? If not, why?

This ruling opens a door that has remained bolted since the inception of the Constitution that could potentially alter U.S. jurisprudence unless it is closed quickly. Unlike when rights are expanded to persons who have been previously denied, the expansion of corporate rights do take away from the individual.

Arguing that corporate rights are somehow on par with the individual will always increase the rights of the former by diminishing those of the latter.

This ruling does not reflect strict constructionist legal thinking that the five justices allegedly embrace. It is the antithesis of Jeffersonian democracy that was suspect toward such elitism. It is instead, brazen arrogance displayed by the justices whose feelings aligned with the corporation.

Those who applaud this decision do so potentially at their own peril. Remember, once the monster was created, Frankenstein could not control it.

Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.