The Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is one of its most controversial in recent history. Burwell’s narrow 5–4 ruling states that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 applies to closely held, for-profit corporations seeking religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the Burwell decision thrust Hobby Lobby, the national craft chain established by the conservative evangelical Green family of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, onto the national stage. Firms like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A, however, reject the conventional wisdom Justice Ginsburg explained in Burwell and instead embrace an approach to business with deep historical roots: incorporating religious belief and practice into the fundamentals of their business model. Since the cultural privilege that these firms once benefited from is disappearing, their business practices increasingly stand out in the twenty-first century. In prior eras of American history, firms that benefited from such privilege seldom had to convince anyone that incorporating Christian principles into their business was an admirable thing, but today’s firms like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A often resort to the courts in an effort to retain the right to incorporate their religious identity into their businesses as they see fit. This Article argues that the proprietors of what I term “Christian Business Enterprises” (CBEs) would strenuously disagree with Justice Ginsburg and assert that their express mission is to earn a profit while propagating their religious values. As such, they operate businesses “infused with religion,” where Christian values are interwoven into the very fabric of the company and how the firm relates to its stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and communities. This Article demonstrates the rich heritage of religious for-profit businesses throughout American history by focusing on a series of Protestant CBEs that led to today’s CBE giants: Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby. This account does not presume to be a comprehensive history of Protestant businesses in America but instead offers a few historical signposts to illustrate the continuity of Christianity’s connection to for-profit enterprises in a variety of forms. As the Article transitions into the twentieth century, it does not discuss any of the thousands of small, local CBEs and neglects entire industries, such as Christian media. This Article fails to adequately address how CBEs have dealt with racial and gender issues, which have been vital to the CBE story; at times, this intersection has perpetuated gender and racial inequalities. No American should face discrimination within the marketplace; however, this Article does not address the ongoing debate over how to balance religious freedom with civil rights. However limited, this Article does demonstrate the close connection between capitalism and Christianity throughout U.S. history. Understanding this connection can help us better contextualize twenty-first century cultural debates over the nature and future of the American marketplace.
Joseph P. Slaughter, The Virginia Company to Chick-fil-A: Christian Business in America, 1600–2000, 44 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 421 (2021).
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