OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Hobby Lobby and a sister company will not be subject to $1.3 million in daily fines beginning Monday for failing to provide access to certain forms of birth control through its employees' health care plans, a judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton set a hearing for July 19 to address claims by the owners of Hobby Lobby and the Mardel Christian bookstore chains that their religious beliefs are so deeply rooted that having to provide every form of birth control would violate their conscience.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said Thursday the companies were likely to prevail, comparing the companies to a kosher butcher unwilling to adopt non-kosher practices as part of a government order.
Until the hearing, the government cannot impose fines against Hobby Lobby or Mardel for failing to comply with all of the Affordable Care Act. The companies' owners oppose birth control methods that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, such as an intrauterine device or the morning-after pill, but are willing to offer the 16 other forms of birth control mentioned in the federal health care law.
"The opinion makes it very clear what is a valid religious belief and what is not," said Emily Hardman, spokeswoman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group is representing the companies and their owners, the Green family.
Heaton asked the government and companies to seek some sort of solution before the hearing, given that the 10th Circuit has already cleared the way for the companies to challenge the law on religious grounds. While not binding beyond the states in the 10th Circuit, Thursday's ruling could benefit others that oppose all forms of birth control, Hardman said, such as Catholic hospitals.
"We got a fantastic opinion from the 10th Circuit, which will impact all the cases," she said.