DENVER — A federal appeals court has paved the way for arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby to pursue an injunction that would block devastating fines while it continues its lawsuit against the federal contraception mandate.
“Today marks a milestone in Hobby Lobby’s fight for religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending Hobby Lobby, in a June 27 press release.
“This is a tremendous victory not only for the Green family and for their business, but also for many other religious business owners who should not have to forfeit their faith to make a living.”
Since founding Hobby Lobby in an Oklahoma City garage in 1972, the Green family has seen its company grow to include more than 500 stores in 40-plus states.
The family is among more than 200 plaintiffs — including for-profit businesses, nonprofit charities, individuals and states — that have filed lawsuits challenging the federal contraception mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The mandate requires employers to cover health-insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that could cause early abortions, even if the provision of these products violates the employer’s deeply held religious beliefs.
Hobby Lobby’s owners do not object to the provision of contraceptives, which they already cover in their plan. However, they have deep religious objections to the “morning after” and “week after” pills that are also included in the required coverage and may cause early abortions by destroying the life of an already created human embryo.
“It is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured,” said David Green, founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, about his case. “Therefore, we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”
The federal government has contended that the owners of “secular, for-profit” companies cannot exercise freedom of religion in their business decisions.
However, the Greens argue that their religion teaches that faith must affect all areas of life, influencing the charitable donations they make, the higher-than-average minimum wages they provide and their decision to close all stores on Sundays so that employees can rest and worship with their families.
Courts on several different levels initially denied Hobby Lobby’s request for a temporary injunction to block the mandate from taking effect while the company’s lawsuit works its way through the court system. Without an injunction, the company would soon face up to $1.3 million per day in fines for violating the mandate.
However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals then granted en banc consideration of Hobby Lobby’s appeal and reversed a lower district court’s ruling from last December.
The appeals court is sending the case back to the district court to hear more arguments and reconsider whether to grant the injunction being sought by Hobby Lobby. In doing so, it made the case that the company and its owners had “established a likelihood of success” in arguing that the mandate “substantially burdened” their religious freedom and would cause “irreparable harm.”
Duncan described the decision as a victory and said, “The Greens will continue to make their case on appeal: that this unconstitutional mandate infringes their right to earn a living while remaining true to their faith.”