High court asked to hear Hobby Lobby case

Craft store giant Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit challenging Obamacare might be headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Bob Allen 

The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to require Hobby Lobby to provide cost-free contraceptives as part of its employee insurance coverage over the religious objections of the Southern Baptist family who own the chain of more than 500 arts-and-craft stores across the United States.

In papers filed Sept. 19, the White House asked the high court to resolve contradictory rulings in federal courts about whether for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby are entitled to protection by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that says the government cannot “substantially burden a person's exercise of religion” without a compelling interest and by the least restrictive means.

Last week the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a Roman Catholic-owned manufacturing company in Michigan cannot exercise religion because it is not a person. This summer the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said a Lancaster County, Pa., cabinet-making company owned by a Mennonite family does not qualify for religious protection.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite June 27, allowing the Hobby Lobby case to move forward because the plaintiffs have a likely chance to succeed.

steve-greenHobby Lobby is owned by family members who worship at Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla. Their lawsuit is one of about 60 cases challenging portions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The Greens believe that human life begins at conception, and therefore using certain forms of birth control — such as morning-after pills and intrauterine devices — are immoral. They object to “facilitating” their use by having to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives.

The Obama administration claims that RFRA does not allow a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the benefits to which they are otherwise entitled by federal law.

“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.”

The same day the government asked the Supreme Court to decide, lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom asked the high court to strike down the contraceptive mandate. The Arizona-based ADF represents Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by a practicing Mennonite family who desire to conduct business in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs.

“All Americans, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith,” said Senior Counsel David Cortman. “A major aspect of freedom is at stake: if the government can force the Hahns to violate their faith just to engage in their livelihood, then the government can do the same or worse to others.”