Alisa Klein, a Justice Department attorney representing the federal government, argued that the idea that corporations are separate from their shareholders is bedrock of American corporate law.
She argued that if the court grants Hobby Lobby the same rights of religious freedom as individuals, it would harm its employees' rights to access preventive health measures guaranteed to millions of workers under the Affordable Care Act.
“If you make an exemption for the employer it is at the detriment of the employees,” Klein said.
Hobby Lobby's case is one of several legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act's mandate on emergency contraceptives pending in federal court, but the first of its kind to be heard by a full slate of appellate court judges instead of the usual board of three judges.
The company hopes to have a ruling from the court on the matter before July 1 that will exempt the company from the health care law while its court case is pending.
The company says it will be subject to fines of up to $1.3 million each day it fails to provide emergency contraceptive coverage for employees, beginning in July, if does not comply with the law. Hobby Lobby has about 13,000 employees at more than 500 stores in the United States.
Duncan said he was encouraged by the questions the judges asked during the hearing.
“We expected these questions, and I think we answered them,” Duncan said after the hearing.