Hobby Lobby appeals to Supreme Court

The Southern Baptist owners of Hobby Lobby say their lawsuit is “an excellent vehicle” for clearing up confusion about whether a federal law protecting religious freedom for individuals applies to corporations as well.

By Bob Allen

Hobby Lobby has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the government can force it to provide health insurance for employees that covers methods of birth control that the company’s Southern Baptist owners believe can cause an abortion.

Hobby Lobby founder David Green, a member of Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla., and other members of his family that run the privately owned craft store chain filed papers Oct. 21 claiming the contraceptive mandate portion of Obamacare violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.

hobbyLobbyThey claim protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without strict scrutiny.

“Hobby Lobby’s case raises important questions about who can enjoy religious freedom,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby. “Right now, some courts recognize the rights of business owners like the Green family, and others do not. Religious freedom is too important to be left to chance. The Supreme Court should take this case and protect religious freedom for the Green family and Hobby Lobby.”

Lower courts are divided over whether the federal law enacted after the Supreme Court upheld the firing of two Native Americans who tested positive for mescaline — a psychoactive compound from the peyote plant used for centuries in Native American religious ceremonies but banned in Oregon as a controlled substance — applies only to persons or to corporations as well.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that a Roman Catholic-owned manufacturing company in Michigan cannot exercise religion because it is not a person. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite in June, allowing the Hobby Lobby case to move forward because the plaintiffs have a likely chance to succeed.

Hobby Lobby stores are closed on Sundays as part of the Green family’s desire to run their business based on religious principles, including their employee health care coverage. “The Greens believe that human beings deserve protection from the moment of conception, and that providing insurance coverage for items that risk killing an embryo makes them complicit in the practice of abortion,” the Supreme Court petition says.

For that reason Hobby Lobby excludes drugs such as RU-486, which is used to terminate an early pregnancy, as well as four of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptive drugs or devices that the Department Health and Human Services says employers must cover under preventive services or face fines.

Hobby Lobby says the regulations recognize the religious sensitivity of contraceptive coverage, because they provide exemptions for churches and religious organizations. The Green family does not qualify for such exemptions “despite their sincere religious objections to facilitating the provision of abortifacients,” the petition says. That forces them to “either violate their faith by covering the mandated contraceptives, or pay crippling fines that would destroy their livelihood.”

The petition says the Hobby Lobby case is “an excellent vehicle for resolving an exceptionally important question on which the circuits are split.”

Previous stories:

High court asked to hear Hobby Lobby case

Hobby Lobby wins legal appeal

Hobby Lobby braces for fines

Hobby Lobby must cover contraceptives

Hobby Lobby gives OK Baptists $2 million

AU defends birth-control mandate