A federal appeals court in Denver denied an appeal by retail chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. to temporarily halt enforcement of a federal health care law that requires insurance coverage for some types of contraception.
Attorneys for Hobby Lobby said they will appeal Thursday's ruling on a temporary injunction to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is handling the case for the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Christian bookstore chain Mardel Inc.
“The Green family is disappointed with this ruling,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund. “They simply asked for a temporary halt to the mandate while their appeal goes forward, and now they must seek relief from the United States Supreme Court. The Greens will continue to make their case on appeal that this unconstitutional mandate infringes their right to earn a living while remaining true to their faith.”
Hobby Lobby could face fines of up to $1.3 million per day starting Jan. 1 if it fails to follow the law's insurance coverage provisions. The chain has more than 13,000 employees in 41 states.
The Green family and Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit in September challenging part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They said a provision dealing with insurance coverage for certain types of contraception — the morning-after pill, the week-after pill and some intrauterine devices — went against the family's beliefs. The Greens believe those types of contraception could cause abortions.
Hobby Lobby covered the challenged contraceptive devices and pills in prior health plans. The company said that was an oversight, and coverage for them was removed in later insurance plans.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel said their health insurance would continue to cover other types of contraception.
In its ruling, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court's ruling that Hobby Lobby and Mardel were private corporations legally separate from the firms' owners. The appeals court said it was unlikely to expand a federal law that guarantees religious freedom.
“We do not think there is a substantial likelihood that this court will extend the reach of RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to encompass the independent conduct of third parties with whom the plaintiffs have only a commercial relationship,” the court said in its ruling.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton approved a request by attorneys for the government and Hobby Lobby to put the case on hold pending the appeal of the temporary injunction to the 10th Circuit.
The Becket Fund said there are now 42 lawsuits nationwide challenging the federal health insurance coverage mandate on religious grounds. The health care law allows exemptions for religious employers.
We do not think there is a substantial likelihood that this court will extend the reach of RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to encompass the independent conduct of third parties with whom the plaintiffs have only a commercial relationship.”
10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling,