DENVER — A panel of eight judges at the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday wrestled with whether Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. — a secular, for profit corporation — has the right to the same religious freedoms guaranteed to individuals under the U.S. Constitution.
The judges heard oral arguments in a Denver courtroom on Hobby Lobby's challenge to part of the Affordable Care Act that requires the company to cover the cost of emergency contraceptives for its employees. The company and its owners, CEO David Green and four family members, believe that some types of contraception, including the “morning-after pill,” are forms of abortion that conflict with the family's Christian beliefs.
From the beginning of the nearly two-hour hearing, the judges peppered attorneys arguing on behalf of Hobby Lobby and the federal government with dozens of questions regarding whether Hobby Lobby's status as a for-profit corporation blocked the company from claiming protection from the health care law under First Amendment rights to religious freedom.
Resting her hand on her chin and wearing a frown, Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe asked several question expressing skepticism of whether Hobby Lobby, a closely held private company, and the Greens, have the right to sue the federal government over their religious objections to part of the Affordable Care Act.
Briscoe asked whether Hobby Lobby as a corporation could have constitutionally protected religious freedoms.
“Do you have any authority that a for-profit corporation can exercise religion? How does that work?” she asked Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in the case.
Duncan argued that just as groups of people can together claim the right to free exercise of religion, so can a corporation.
The Green family has run the company according to the tenants of their Christian faith for the past 40 years, he said.