Hobby Lobby braces for fines

The Christian owners of the arts-and-crafts store chain say their conscience doesn’t permit them to provide insurance coverage for methods of birth control that they believe kill a living fetus.

By Bob Allen

Baptist-owned Hobby Lobby faces fines up to $1.3 million a day for refusing to obey a law that takes effect Jan. 1 requiring employee health-care plans to provide insurance coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, including methods the business owners believe induce abortion.

The Oklahoma City-based retailer lost a legal battle Dec. 20 when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled its objections that portions of the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – violate the religious freedom of employers opposed to “abortion-inducing contraceptive drugs and devices.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refused to block enforcement of the coverage mandate, saying that if they fail to win their case in lower courts, then the Greens can petition to high court to hear it.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby in the case, said his clients will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees, but, “To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.”

Founded in 1970 by David Green, a member of Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla., Hobby Lobby now has 525 stores across the nation. In addition to its arts-and-crafts business, the firm also runs Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain with 35 stores located in the central region of the United States.

Rick Thompson, pastor of the 4,800-member Council Road Baptist Church, said in a blog Dec. 29 that what the government is doing to the Green family is “disgusting, frustrating and egregious.”

“Hobby Lobby is not some impersonal corporate conglomerate,” Thompson said. “It is a family-owned business. And as a good friend and pastor to many in this family, I know them up close and personal. These are not corporate tycoons. These are not people who fly corporate jets and flaunt their wealth. They are by all appearances an average American family with traditional American values. They are about the least materialistic family you would ever meet. They give most of their money away, pay their taxes, love their family, serve their church. They are patriotic, humble and outstanding role models and servants to their community. They quietly support a multitude of charitable causes around the world.”

Courts have ruled that as a secular corporation Hobby Lobby is not entitled to free exercise of religion protection under the First Amendment. Thompson said that means the government “doesn't care about your sense of religious freedom if you happen to be a successful business owner.”

Green said in an earlier statement: “Our family is now being forced to choose 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. We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

The Hobby Lobby website says, “The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” Hobby Lobby stories are closed on Sunday and give a 10 percent discount to churches, schools and national charitable organizations that use an organizational check or credit card.

In addition, Hobby Lobby “partners with organizations working to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world,” the website continues. Ministry partners include Wycliffe Bible Translators and Oral Roberts University.

The Hobby Lobby case is one of 42 lawsuits filed by more than 110 plaintiffs challenging the contraception mandate. Some, like complaints filed by Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College, East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University, contend that religious organizations like schools and hospitals that hire people outside the faith and serve a larger constituency than just church members should be entitled to the same conscience clause that exempts houses of worship from providing coverage that runs contrary to their faith.