The divisive struggle in the U.S. Supreme Court between Christian business owners and the U.S. government over contraceptives has become known around the country as the Hobby Lobby case.
But that is shorthand for two combined cases that include three for-profit corporations: Hobby Lobby, the national chain of arts-and-crafts stores; Mardel, a Christian book store chain; and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a furniture maker.
David Green started Hobby Lobby with a single arts-and-crafts store in Oklahoma City in 1970; the Oklahoma City-based company is now a nationwide chain of about 500 stores with more than 13,000 full-time employees. Mardel, also based in Oklahoma City, was founded by Mart Green, one of David Green’s sons, and now has 35 stores and about 400 full-time employees.
David and Barbara Green and their three children operate Hobby Lobby and Mardel through a management trust. Hobby Lobby is operated according to the family’s religious principles; the stores are closed on Sundays, employees are offered free access to chaplains and spiritual counseling, and the owners buy millions of dollars of advertising around Christmas and Easter inviting people to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Conestoga Wood is based in Lancaster County, Pa., and has 950 employees. The company was started in a garage by David Hahn in 1964.
The company is now run by Norman and Elizabeth Hahn and their three sons, Norman Lemar, Anthony and Kevin. They are devout Mennonite Christians who, according to case filings, integrate their faith into their daily lives and business.
The Greens and the Hahns oppose providing health insurance coverage for contraceptives that could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. To the families, that is the destruction of life.
After the Affordable Care Act was approved, a federal agency designed a mandate for health insurance plans to cover — at no cost — 18 contraceptives for women. The companies say there are four that could prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.
Under the law, Hobby Lobby could face fines of $1.3 million per day — or nearly $475 million per year — if it does not offer all of the contraceptives. If the company dropped its insurance coverage completely, it would have to pay about $26 million per year.
Conestoga’s penalty for not meeting the mandate would be $95,000 per day. If the company dropped its insurance policy, it would have to pay about $1.9 million per year.
Two federal appeals courts divided over whether the companies in the cases have a right to religious expression.
In the Hobby Lobby/Mardel case, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that incorporating as a for-profit business didn’t mean forfeiting the right to religious expression.
“Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” the court wrote in its decision last June.
“The kosher butcher, of course, might directly serve a religious community — as Mardel, a Christian bookstore, does here. But we see no reason why one must orient one’s business toward a religious community to preserve Free Exercise protections.
“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”
However, in the Conestoga case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the company didn’t have the free expression right.
“We are unable to determine that the ‘nature, history, and purpose’ of the Free Exercise Clause supports the conclusion that for-profit, secular corporations are protected under this particular constitutional provision,’’ the court ruled last July.
“Even if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation — apart from its owners — can exercise religion.”