Emory Law Journal


This Article debunks the analogy often drawn between principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and claims for corporate religious exemption. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which held that for-profit businesses are eligible for religious exemptions from general laws, a rising tide of scholars and advocates has argued that the two programs are symmetrical and mutually supportive.

Looking to the intellectual history of CSR, we demonstrate sharp conflicts—rather than congruence—between the analytical underpinnings of CSR and religious exemptions for corporations. Whereas CSR enlists law-abiding corporations to advance public objectives, these religious exemptions oppose state laws in the personal interest of shareholders. Our analysis uncovers a fundamental mismatch between the political and economic orders imagined by CSR and corporate religious exemptions. Corporate social responsibility posits a distinctly democratic political economy with the state leading its corporate allies in pursuit of societal goals. Proponents of corporate religious exemptions subvert this tradition: corporations defend private liberty from the threat of the public. This vision of the state and the corporation in law, politics, and the economy proves anathema to the project of corporate social responsibility.

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