Hobby Lobby stores will not have to pay out millions of dollars in fines next week, despite the company’s choice to stand up against the federal contraceptive health insurance mandate, a federal appeals court said Thursday.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided the Christian-owned arts and crafts chain based in Oklahoma City could proceed with its case against the government without being subjected to fines in the process.
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. maintains that businesses—not just religious groups—should be allowed to seek an exception to the mandate if it violates their religious beliefs, and the court agreed.
“Sincerely religious persons could find a connection between the exercise of religion and the pursuit of profit,” the judges wrote. “Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?”
The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and its sister company, Mardel Inc., join a long list of pro-life advocates objecting to the law because of their belief that the “morning-after” and “week-after” pills included in the coverage cause abortions, as they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb. The company also objects to providing coverage for certain types of intrauterine devices.
Lawyers for the Greens called the court’s ruling a “resounding victory for religious freedom.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State disagreed.
“This court has taken a huge step toward handing bosses and company owners a blank check to meddle in the private medical decisions of their workers,” the organization’s executive director, Barry Lynn, said in a statement. “This isn’t religious freedom; it’s the worst kind of religious oppression.”
The U.S. Department of Justice also believes allowing for-profit corporations to exempt themselves from requirements contrary to their religious beliefs is equivalent to the business imposing its religious beliefs on its employees.
An indication of the case’s importance, the 10th Circuit opted to hear the case before eight active judges instead of the typical three-judge panel. Hobby Lobby won expedited federal review because the chain would have faced fines Monday for not covering the required forms of contraception.
Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit will now move back to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, which earlier ruled against Hobby Lobby’s religious exemption request.