Christian owned and operated Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court challenging a mandate in the Obama administration's health care law that requires most employer health insurance plans to provide coverage for contraception and the morning after pill without requiring a co-pay.
There are about 27 lawsuits challenging the mandate, and Hobby Lobby, which owns about 500 arts and crafts stores across the country, is the largest for-profit business to do so.
Several of the lawsuits filed by nonprofit entities have been dismissed, because the rules governing those entities are undergoing revision and won't take effect until later next year. But Hobby Lobby as a for-profit enterprise, has to comply with the mandate by January.
"Assuming that a court agrees to hear the case, and doesn't dismiss it on procedural grounds, it will be an early opportunity to hear not only the plaintiffs arguments about why their religious beliefs are burdened but for the government to explain its decision not to exempt these and other employers from the rules," says Robert W. Tuttle, a professor of law and religion at George Washington University Law School.
"Our faith is being challenged by the U.S. government," said Hobby Lobby's founder and CEO David Green in a conference call today. He said the company opposes having to provide "abortion causing drugs" that go against his family faith. "We cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with the mandate."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby Stores, argues that the Obama administration's policy violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. "Religious liberty is the birthright of every American whether they are running a business, sitting in a church or operating hospital," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund.
The administration's health care law exempts only churches and religious orders from the mandate.
Tuttle believes the claim of a for-profit business would be more difficult to prove, because courts have been generally less sympathetic to claims of religious liberty by commercial entities, but he did note a recent case - Newland v. Sebelius - in which a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff.