The evangelical Christians who own Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday challenging the federal mandate that they provide their employees no-cost access to contraception that conflicts with their religious beliefs.
The lawsuit claims the federal Health and Human Services mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act adopted in 2010, violates the business owners' freedoms of religion and speech. Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green said the law places his family and company in an untenable position.
“Our family is now being forced to choose to between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families,” Green said Wednesday during a conference call. “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”
The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby and Mardel retail stores, have long been public about their religious beliefs, reflected in the Sunday closings of their stores, the purchase of full-page Christian-themed newspaper ads on Easter and Christmas, the use of full-time chaplains to minister to employees and using profits to fund ministries and missions around the world.
The Affordable Care Act, labeled Obamacare by opponents, requires insurance companies to offer several preventive care services, including contraception, to women at no cost. The rule took effect Aug. 1, and the requirement would kick in with Hobby Lobby, which is self-insured, on Jan. 1.
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction to allow the company to avoid potential penalties of more than $1 million a day, said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the action on the company's behalf.
The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting the mandate's enforcement against the Green family and its businesses, “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.”
Duncan said the Greens are not opposed to all forms of birth control, only emergency contraception such as the “morning-after” or “week-after” pills. The lawsuit refers to contraception methods such as Plan B, Ella and some intrauterine devices as “abortion-causing drugs and devices.”
Duncan said 27 lawsuits have been filed against the federal mandate, but Hobby Lobby is the largest, and first non-Catholic owned business to challenge the mandate. One Colorado company has obtained an injunction preventing it from being penalized while its case is heard, he said.
The lawsuit states that the family's “commitment to Jesus Christ and to Biblical principles is what gives their business endeavors meaning and purpose.”
“The Green family's religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices,” the lawsuit said. “The administrative rule at issue in this case runs roughshod over the Green family's religious beliefs, and the beliefs of millions of other Americans, by forcing them to provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices, as well as related education and counseling.”
Hobby Lobby employs more than 15,000 people in more than 500 stores in 41 states. Mardel operates 35 stores in seven states and has 372 full-time employees.
The suit names three federal agencies and their cabinet-level leaders as defendants: the Department of Health and Human Services and Kathleen Sebelius; the Labor Department and Hilda Solis; and the Treasury Department and Timothy Geithner. The petition was filed in federal court in Oklahoma City.