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U.S. Supreme Court takes Hobby Lobby case

by Chris Casteel Modified: November 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm •  Published: November 26, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to review the lawsuit filed by Hobby Lobby against the federal government over the Obamacare mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an Oklahoma City family with strong Christian beliefs, says a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protects the company from the mandate. The company is particularly opposed to paying for coverage that includes the morning after pill.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is a step below the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed with Hobby Lobby, ruling essentially that corporations have the same religious rights as individuals.

The U.S. Justice Department, representing the Obama administration in the case, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 10th Circuit’s decision, and justices agreed on Tuesday to do so.

The high court accepted a related case from Pennsylvania involving a furniture making company with Mennonite owners. In that case, a federal appeals court ruled that the owners could not challenge the mandate on religious ground because a company did not enjoy the same rights as individuals.

A Supreme Court decision in the case is likely before the term ends next summer.

Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, is solely owned by David Green and his family.

“This is a major step for the Greens and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens.”

Green, the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, said, “My family and I are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide our case.

“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution. Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration asked the Supreme Court to consider a legal challenge to the health care law’s requirement that for-profit corporations include birth control coverage in insurance available to their employees. We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.

“We do not comment on specifics of a case pending before the Court.

“As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor.

“The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women. The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families _ not their bosses or corporate CEOs _ can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.”

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “The Supreme Court’s consideration of the Hobby Lobby case is the most important religious liberty question in recent years. What’s at stake in this case is whether or not the Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion.

“We cannot accept the theology lesson that the government has sought to teach us, that religion is merely a matter of what happens during the scheduled times of our services, and is left there in the foyer during the rest of the week. Our religious convictions aren’t reduced to mere opinions we hide in our heart and in our hymns. Our religious convictions inform the way we live.

“I pray the Supreme Court recognizes what the founders of this country saw, that religious liberty isn’t a gift handed to us by Uncle Caesar. Religious liberty is given to us by God and is inalienable. Let’s pray for the justices as they think through this monumentally important case.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are more than 40 active cases in the country “in which a for-profit business argues that it should not have to comply with the federal rule on the grounds that it violates the religious beliefs of the business and its owners. There are additional cases brought by non-profit organizations challenging the rule as well.”

“Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but religious freedom does not include the right to impose your beliefs on others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “It does not mean that businesses can refuse to comply with the law based on their religious beliefs, particularly where that means discriminating against their employees.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said, “The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is a victory for the company, the Green Family, and for all of us engaged in the fight to protect religious liberty.

“Our Founding Fathers created a system to protect Americans’ religious freedom from an overbearing and intrusive government. It’s clear the health care law’s ‘contraception mandate’ goes against that very notion by requiring religious groups to violate their lawful beliefs and practices.

“The State of Oklahoma has supported Hobby Lobby and the Green Family by filing an amicus brief in support of their lawsuit, and we will continue to support them as the Supreme Court reviews this case.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said, “I applaud the Supreme Court’s announcement today to review ObamaCare’s mandate on employers to cover contraceptive and abortion inducing drugs. This mandate violates our Founding Fathers’ belief that government is to protect the right of conscience. President Obama’s law orders a new moral code on how we should value human rights; in this instance the right of the unborn, the most voiceless among us.

“Despite being faced with millions of dollars in fines by the federal government, David Green and his company Hobby Lobby have honorably challenged the government’s ability to infringe on the religious liberty and right of conscience for every American. Our Supreme Court judges must weigh this case with the recognition it will be a pivotal decision for the future of religious freedom in our nation.”

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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