(RNS) Federal officials have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the government mandate that private companies offer employees birth control coverage despite the business owner’s moral objections, with the company at the center of the suit owned by billionaire evangelical Christians.

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio.

Hobby Lobby store in Ohio. Photo courtesy DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons


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Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit has been one of the most high profile of 60-some cases involving the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. The arts and crafts chain was founded by David Green, whom Forbes called “the biblical billionaire backing the evangelical movement.”

In June, the Obama administration issued final rules for the mandate that requires most employers to provide contraception at no cost. While there are exemptions for religious groups and affiliated institutions, there are no carve-outs for private businesses with religious owners.

Opponents of the mandate say that they will be forced to provide coverage they find morally abhorrent. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration Friday (Sept. 20) on behalf of four Christian universities in Oklahoma, where Hobby Lobby is also based.

Now that two different federal courts have issued contradictory opinions on the mandate, the issue is near certain to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Thursday’s (Sept. 19) petition from the Obama administration to the high court raises the issue central in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.

The administration is asking the Supreme Court to decide that for-profit corporations cannot deny their employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

“The United States government is taking the remarkable position that private individuals lose their religious freedom when they make a living,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby.

“We’re confident that the Supreme Court will reject the government’s extreme position and hold that religious liberty is for everyone — including people who run a business.”

In June, a federal court in Oklahoma ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor, saying that corporations have free exercise rights, and that the contraceptive coverage mandate substantially burdened those rights without a compelling governmental interest.

In a separate case earlier this month, a federal court in Colorado also granted a preliminary injunction to a for-profit corporation and an evangelical owner who have religious objections to contraceptives they believe cause abortions.

In the Colorado case, Briscoe v. Sebelius, the court had initially refused to grant a temporary restraining order in the case but issued a new decision after the Oklahoma court decided the Hobby Lobby case.

The government’s petition to the Supreme Court came the same day as a petition in another case involving a challenge to the HHS mandate involving a family-owned woodworking business.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the business’s challenge in July, ruling that a business organized to earn a profit cannot exercise religion, so the business cannot claim religious protection.

“The chances are strong that the Court will agree to rule on one or more of the challenges, since federal appeals courts are now split on the question,” Supreme Court watcher Lyle Denniston wrote on Scotusblog.

If the Supreme Court grants a petition to hear the case, the case would be argued and decided before the end of the court’s term in June 2014.

21 Comments

  1. Do Christian Scientist or Jehovah Wittness (whomever does not believe in blood transfusions) have the right to have health care insurance which does not allow their employees who follow a different theology to have transfusions?

    • Don the insurance would not prevent employees from having transfusions or abortions. The employer is only asking that they not be forced to pay for these procedures. The individual employees can then buy separate insurance on their own to cover these procedures if they so desire.

  2. Kathy Edwards

    If I read a little more about this overall issue, and look at the recent case in Cincinnati, there seems to be a distinction between a corporation and a non-profit in regards to winning the case for the RFRA. So, why can’t Hobby Lobby employees be paid from the Green Family Foundation, or Hobby Lobby sell to the Green Family Foundation for $1 (or donate the company to the foundation), and then the employees would be working for a Christian based non-profit, possibly exempting them from supplying birth control to their employees?

    • Charles Freeman

      Another really good answer is to refuse business licenses to persons whose religious beliefs would keep them from supplying full health services to employees. Next, eliminate the IRS code 501.c altogether, so that the so-called nonprofits actually pay taxes or prove that they donate money without recompense for the welfare of other humans. This is estimated to bring in big bucks to our national treasury, that now is being cheated by religious institutions.

      • In other words: refuse to let anyone operate a business whose religious views or political opinions don’t align with yours. How very tolerant of you.

        • Stephanie Sipe

          “We’re confident that the Supreme Court will reject the government’s extreme position and hold that religious liberty is for everyone — including people who run a business.”

          And what about the employees’ religious liberty? What is your reply to Dan Heller’s comment, re: business owners who are Jehovah Witness or Christian Scientists?

        • CarrotCakeMan

          The owners of Hobby Lobby are free to refuse to use contraceptives. What those owners want is to deny their employees their own freedom of religion.

          • CarrotCakeMan Hobby Lobby is not asking the federal government to deny abortions to their employees. They are only asking that they not have to pay for these abortions. The employees who want abortions are free to get them or buy insurance on their own to cover abortion.

  3. Why haven’t the affected employees filed a class

    action lawsuit against the company. Employees don’t have to follow fanatical belief systems. This is discrimination. The company could have denied benefits 75 years ago based on religion finding so called scriptures against non-whites.

  4. I was curious about Hobby Lobby’s position, therefore, I visted one of their stores and was dismayed to find that the Owner/Management that is so adamant about providing birth control to employees thinks nothing of having a predominant product line of almost everything made in China, a country that has a dismal human rights record, a forced abortion policy, and is an outright Godless Communist country….I guess they feel it is OK to make profit for themselves off of all of this, supporting abortion and abuse to human rights vicariously along the way….the epitome of hypocrisy in my opinion….God will Judge them for their greed and deceiful ways, trying to act riteous as if this is in His name….disgusting and shameful in the very least, but mostly, un-Christian….

    • Dave let me get this straight if Hobby Lobby is somehow supporting abortions by buying Chinese goods then they should be forced to pay for abortions for the employees. Therefore, it would be your position if they didn’t buy goods from China then they wouldn’t have to pay for abortions for their employees. Wonderful!

  5. If a business organized to earn a profit cannot exercise religion, what about the human beings running the organization. Aren’t these human beings we’re talking about here? a corporation is not composed of calculators and robots after all is it?

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