The federal government is asking a judge to rule against Hobby Lobby, whose owners do not want to provide their employees with insurance coverage for “abortion-causing drugs and devices.”
Founder David Green and other owners of the Oklahoma City-based retail chain sued in September in federal court in Oklahoma City.
They are asking U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton to prevent the government from enforcing new health care rules on their business “and other individuals and organizations that object on religious grounds to providing insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs and devices and related education and counseling.”
A hearing on a preliminary injunction request is set for Nov. 1.
In a response this week, government attorneys argued the owners cannot raise religious objections to “the preventive services coverage regulations” because Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular corporation.
“To hold otherwise would permit for-profit, secular corporations and their owners to become laws unto themselves,” the attorneys wrote.
“Because there are an infinite variety of alleged religious beliefs, such companies and their owners could claim countless exemptions from an untold number of general commercial laws designed to protect against unfair discrimination in the workplace and to protect the health and well-being of individual employees and their families.
“Such a system would not only be unworkable, it would also cripple the government's ability to solve national problems.”
At issue is the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
In the lawsuit, the Hobby Lobby owners describe themselves as “committed evangelical Christians.” They complain the regulations would force religiously motivated business owners like themselves “to violate their faith under threat of millions of dollars in fines.”
Hobby Lobby has more than 13,000 full-time employees in more than 500 stores, which are closed on Sundays in keeping with the owners' beliefs.
The Green family also owns Mardel Inc., a Christian-themed bookstore and education company.
The Greens complain in the lawsuit about the “morning-after pill,” the “week-after pill” and certain intrauterine devices that “can cause the death of the embryo.”
The government responded that the Greens want to block regulations intended to give women access at no cost to approved contraceptive methods “that medical experts have deemed necessary for women's health and well-being.”
“The Greens' theory boils down to the claim that what's done to the company (or the group health plans sponsored by the company) is also done to its owners. But, as a legal matter, that is simply not so,” the attorneys said.
The attorneys also suggested that many employees do not share the Greens' religious beliefs. “Those employees should not be denied the benefits of receiving a plan through their employer that covers recommended contraceptive services.”
An attorney for the Green family criticized the government's position.
“The government repeats its old line: you give up your religious freedom when you go into business. That's a startling and disturbing claim for our government to make,” Lori Windham said.
“The Green family is asking to continue to live their faith by not paying for drugs that might cause abortions,” said Windham, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“They're not objecting to all forms of birth control, and they want to continue to provide good health care and good wages for their employees,” she said. “But that's not enough for the federal government. ... The government has already handed out exemptions for other health plans, plans that cover 100 million Americans. So why must it force a family-owned business to violate that family's faith?”