Attorney: Socially Liberal Apple Benefits from Hobby Lobby Precedent In Row with FBI Over iPhone

March 29th, 2016 4:51 PM

How's this for irony? Socially liberal San Francisco Bay area-based Apple may arguably may have been bolstered in its position against the FBI in the matter of the San Bernardino jihadist's iPhone by virtue of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, a lawyer writing in Christianity Today magazine argued today.

After all, noted Chelsea Langston:

When the tech giant sought to block a federal request to access the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, privacy was clearly a major issue at stake. In a court filing last month, Apple attorneys cited the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. By claiming these constitutional protections as a corporation, their defense recalled another company in the headlines for resisting government orders: Hobby Lobby.

What's more, argued Langston, of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, "The continued media coverage of Apple’s case offers an opportunity for religious freedom advocates." Indeed, she added (emphases mine): 

Its example reminds us of the broad importance of protecting organizations—both secular and religious, for-profit and non-profit—from compulsion to act against their most foundational values. This comparison between the Apple case and the Hobby Lobby case is not exact, but the two are closer than we may realize.

Apple argues that the court’s request counters its core values of data security and privacy. “Courts look very unfavorably in circumstances where the government forces a private citizen or an organization perhaps to speak, to say something—especially if it [is] a view that they don’t side with,” said David O’Brien, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, in Forbes.

There’s reason to for us to also look “unfavorably” on government coercion of religious organizations that get pressed to act against bedrock faith doctrines, to adopt “a view that they don’t side with.” Last week, the Supreme Court heard a case involving Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who argue that they cannot in good faith offer an employee health plan that contains contraceptives. (They belong to a religious non-profit organization, rather than a church or church auxiliary, which are exempt.)

These cases give us a chance to consider the public good of providing institutions—whether beloved technology companies, niche craft stores, or religious nonprofits run by nuns—with enough freedom to live out their core missions and principles. In our pluralistic society, everyone benefits when diverse institutions, representing diverse people and interests, are given the space to serve and operate according to their most foundational values and purposes.

As Justice Alito, in his majority opinion in Hobby Lobby, pointed out: “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.” And so, “protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby … protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.” Likewise, it could be argued, that protecting the free speech rights of companies like Apple protects the humans who run it to safeguard one of their most bedrock values: the privacy of their customers.

The FBI challenge to Apple’s encryption may resonate with Americans more than nuns or Christian craft store owners pushing back against birth control coverage. But constitutional rights are constitutional rights, and we should be eager to defend an organization’s freedom to lawfully operate according to the beliefs that define it and its members—even if they aren’t beliefs we happen to share.

Where government has a compelling interest, whether that interest is national security or preventative health coverage for women, the government still has an obligation to balance these interests against the interests of institutions it is trying to coerce to act in violation of their most elemental values...

You can read Langston's full piece here.