For God and For Profit: Do Money-Makers Have Religious Liberty?
Religion & Liberty Online

For God and For Profit: Do Money-Makers Have Religious Liberty?

“Is there a religious way to pump gas, sell groceries, or advertise for a craft store?”

In a new paper, “God and the Profits: Is There Religious Liberty for Money-Makers?,” Mark Rienzi asks the question. (HT)

Rienzi, an assistant professor at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, writes in direct response to the federal government’s HHS contraception mandate, focusing on the religious liberty challenges faced by for-profit companies. As Rienzi argues, imposing such penalties requires “singling out religion for disfavored treatment in ways forbidden by the Free Exercise Clause and federal law.”

From the abstract:

Litigation over the HHS contraceptive mandate has raised the question whether a for-profit business and its owner can engage in religious exercise under federal law. The federal government has argued, and some courts have found, that the activities of a profit-making business are ineligible for religious freedom protection.

This article offers a comprehensive look at the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, arguing that the act of earning money does not preclude profit-making businesses and their owners from engaging in protected religious exercise.

Many religions impose, and at least some businesses follow, religious requirements for the conduct of profit-making businesses. Thus businesses can be observed to engage in actions that are obviously motivated by religious beliefs: from preparing food according to ancient Jewish religious laws, to seeking out loans that comply with Islamic legal requirements, to encouraging people to “know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” These actions easily qualify as exercises of religion.

In his section on various religious teachings on religious exercise and profit-making, Rienzi offers some helpful summaries of how Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all “impose requirements on their adherents’ money-making activities,” such that “claims of religious liberty in the profit-making context are plausible.” Each is followed, later in the paper, by real-world examples of how certain Jews, Muslims, and Christians have grounded their business endeavors in a religious understanding.

As one example of a religious group leaving plenty of room for faith-profit integration, Rienzi points to the Catholic Church, drawing extensively from Vocation of the Business Leader (see page 15 of Rienzi’s paper for the complete footnotes):

One group with a particularly well-developed set of teachings on this issue is the Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in the United States. Catholic teaching makes clear that business and profit-making are not viewed as inconsistent with religious exercise. Rather, the “vocation of the businessperson is a genuine human and Christian calling.” When properly managed, profit-making businesses “actively enhance the dignity of employees and the development of virtues such as solidarity, practical wisdom, justice, discipline, and many others.” In this regard, Christian business leaders are urged to “pursue their vocation, motivated by much more than financial success.”

The Church views the business leader’s development of the corporate business organization as vocational: “Business leaders have a special role to play in the unfolding of creation . . . [by] help[ing] to shape organizations which will extend this work into the future.” By creating and sustaining corporate entities, business leaders “are participating in the work of the Creator through their stewardship of productive organizations” which the Church views as an “awesome responsibility of their vocation.” At the same time, Catholic business leaders are to avoid thinking of themselves as morally separate from the actions of their businesses. Church teaching urges business leaders to overcome this divide and “integrate the gifts of the spiritual life” into their business dealings…

…[T]hese teachings suggest that at least some Christians do not view profit-making as inherently separate from religious exercise. To the contrary, at least some Christians presumably feel required to follow a host of religious requirements on their profit-making activities, and understand those requirements to extend to the corporations they own and operate.

Read the complete paper here.

Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.