A federal judge ruled Monday against Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby and Mardel on a bid to block enforcement of contraceptive health-insurance provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
In his ruling on a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said the retailers were “secular, for-profit corporations” and did not have free-exercise rights under the First Amendment.
Attorneys for the family-owned crafts and book retailers said they plan to appeal the ruling to a federal appeals court in Denver.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel, founded by the Green family, challenged the federal health care law's coverage for certain contraceptive devices and pills on religious grounds. They were assisted by the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“We disagree with this decision and we will immediately appeal it,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund, in a statement. “Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs.”
The stores said they could face fines of up to $1.3 million per day if they don't provide insurance coverage for contraception known as the morning-after pill, week-after pill and certain intrauterine devices to their employees and dependents. The Greens said they believe those types of contraception cause abortions.
Attorneys for the Green family and the retailers asked Heaton to stop enforcement of the law's provisions on contraceptive coverage before their case reached trial. The mandate would take effect Jan. 1.
In a hearing earlier this month, government attorneys said for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel were secular entities.
They said the contraceptive pills and devices were included among other forms of contraception under the health care law because medical experts deemed them necessary for women's health and well-being.
CEO David Green founded Hobby Lobby in 1972 and has grown the retailer to more than 500 stores in 41 states. Green's son, Mart, started Christian bookstore chain Mardel in 1981. The Greens close the stores on Sundays, offer chaplain services to employees and broadcast Christian music.
“It is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured,” David Green said in a statement Monday. “Therefore, we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”
The Green family said it has no moral objections to what it calls “preventive contraceptives” and will continue to cover those under its health insurance for Hobby Lobby and Mardel employees.
In his ruling on the preliminary injunction, Heaton said he was sympathetic to the Greens' personal opposition to the law on religious grounds.
“The court is not unsympathetic to plaintiffs' circumstances and recognizes that the (Affordable Care Act's) substantial expansion of employer obligations results in concerns and issues not previously confronted by companies or their owners,” Heaton wrote.
But Heaton said the companies were unlikely to win on First Amendment claims of religious freedom or under a separate federal law that protects religious exercise.
The Greens' decision to fight the federal health care law on religious grounds rallied support from some religious organizations, as well as those opposed to the law for more secular, political reasons. Hobby Lobby was the largest, non-Catholic-owned business to file a lawsuit against the coverage mandate. Dozens of other companies, universities and health care systems have challenged the law's provisions on contraceptive coverage.
Among the Greens' supporters was the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, which reiterated its support after Monday's ruling.
“There is no question that Hobby Lobby stores should be free to conduct business in a manner consistent with their values, one that protects life,” said Anthony Jordan, the group's executive director-treasurer. “Any ruling to the contrary is an affront to all we hold dear in this country. We stand with the Green family in their commitment to life and religious liberty.”
CONTRIBUTING: Religion Editor Carla Hinton