, Gloucester, MA

April 4, 2013

Letter: Fighting the idea of corporate citizenship

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

In the April issue of “Sojourners,” evangelical theologian Jim Wallis has written an essay called “A Gospel for the Common Good.”

In it, he writes that it is “... time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good.”

This is an old call and one that every generation of Americans has always heard anew. The founders wrote a Constitution that has stood the test of time, because every generation fought for the “common good,” or what the Preamble of the Constitution calls the “general welfare,” which emphasized the centrality of people, and of the peoples’ sovereignty over the government.

The founders created a government of checks and balances to ensure that nothing could acquire power greater than that of the people. Successive onslaughts against the sovereignty of the people, by the National Bank Andrew Jackson destroyed, the slavocracy, the trusts T.R. busted, Jim Crow and others, have been defeated over and over again in our long and thrilling national saga of freedom.

The Supreme Court ruling regarding the “Citizens United” case is the latest onslaught on American freedom. Although nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, the concept of “corporate personhood” has emerged since the 1880s as a growing threat to the sovereignty of the people.

External threats from King George to the masters of the Kremlin’s “evil empire” were defeated by our military power. But now we are confronted by an internal threat, which Wallis has described as the fact that “... corporations now enjoy the same freedom of speech as individuals. To turn corporations into “people” is not only a profound legal, historical and political misstep, it is a deeply offensive theological error. Remember, people are made in the image of God and corporations are not.”

Exactly. So this ridiculous claim to “personhood” opens corporations up to probably unwelcome moral controversy. In Genesis 1:27 it clearly states that “God creatred man in His own image.” The founders clearly understood this.

They wrote a Constitution that enshrined respect for human beings and human rights and that would prevent the acquisition of power greater than that of the people. But, corporate personhood accomplishes just that.

How? By claiming “rights” written in the Constitution, and meant for natural born persons, made in the image of God, for themselves.

Consider cigarette advertising. People, out of concern for their children, have forbidden cigarette advertising near schools, and the courts have struck down these efforts because tobacco companies have “free speech rights” as “persons” to say what they like, where they like. Consider the efforts of Monsanto, in California, to strike down Proposition 37, which would have required manufacturers to label all food containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s).

Monsanto poured huge amounts of money to defeat the measure, and did. Corporations claim not only speech rights, but under the First Amendment they have the right not to speak — or not to label products that are genetically modified as such so that an unsuspecting public buys them. Both of these examples clearly raise important issues that can imperil human life.

This is not to say that corporations cannot advertise but just that this advertising must be within parameters of accuracy set by the people through our government. Again, no one is claiming corporations cannot advertise. Just watch TV. When I do, I am reminded of what a great invention the mute button on my remote control is!

Corporations have a huge part to play in our society. But they are not people. Corporations are — and should be — focused on profits, innovation, job creation. That is their proper role. We should all appreciate and celebrate this.

But those concerns must always be subservient to those of the people: the common good, and the general welfare of human health and a clean environment. For we the people also have our proper role — under the Constitution of the United States.