“Religious” Corporations Leaning on the Everlasting Arms of Private Arbitrators

The New York Times‘ series on the use of binding arbitration to “privatize” disputes usually resolved by the courts continues today with a piece (again by Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg) focusing on the use of arbitration requirements which substitute religious for secular law. A sample:

For generations, religious tribunals have been used in the United States to settle family disputes and spiritual debates. But through arbitration, religion is being used to sort out secular problems like claims of financial fraud and wrongful death.

Customers who buy bamboo floors from Higuera Hardwoods in Washington State must take any dispute before a Christian arbitrator, according to the company’s website. Carolina Cabin Rentals, which rents high-end vacation properties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, tells its customers that disputes may be resolved according to biblical principles. The same goes for contestants in a fishing tournament in Hawaii.

Religious arbitration clauses…have often proved impervious to legal challenges.

Scientology forbids its followers from associating with former members who have been declared “suppressive persons,” according to people who have left the church. But this year, a federal judge in Florida upheld a religious arbitration clause requiring Luis Garcia, a declared suppressive, to take his claim that the church had defrauded him of tens of thousands of dollars before a panel of Scientologists, instead of going to court.

The piece also discusses at some length complaints against “Christian” counseling and rehab services–some of them mandated by actual courts–that try to “de-gay” people and exploit free labor and then defend themselves with arbitration clauses that subject all disputes to “scriptural” standards.

In other words, greed and bigotry have joined hands via arbitration requirements.

If you want to understand how these legal trends have emerged via some dubious court precedents, look no further than Lina Khan’s exhaustive piece for the Washington Monthly last year, which explains the evolving legal standards and the efforts–now being vindicated–by Congress to head off the privatization of grievances against corporations.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.