WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen U.S. lawmakers who supported a 1993 law protecting religious liberty have formally defended Hobby Lobby in its recent religious-freedom lawsuit.
“Congress has commanded equal treatment of all under a religion-protective rule. Defendants may not pick and choose whose exercise of religion is protected and whose is not,” said the friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of nine U.S. senators and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The brief was filed in support of Hobby Lobby, a privately owned chain of craft stores founded in Oklahoma in 1972.
Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, David Green, has said that he and his family are devoted Christians who seek to operate their stores “in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” The company makes significant charitable donations and closes all of its stores on Sundays for employees to worship and rest with their families.
However, the Green family is among scores of plaintiffs suing the government over religious-freedom concerns dealing with a federal mandate that requires employers to offer insurance coverage of some drugs that can induce early abortions, including the “morning after" pill.
For following their religious convictions and refusing to provide the coverage, the Greens could face fines of more than $1 million a day.
The case is currently being heard before a federal appeals court. However, the company was earlier denied a temporary injunction, so it could be subject to the huge daily fines for several months while the case is being decided.
The Feb. 19 brief was signed by U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Daniel Coats, R-Ind., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, James Inhofe, R-Okla., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Frank Wolf, R-Va.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is handling Hobby Lobby’s case, explained the significance of the congressional support.
“While any brief by sitting members of Congress is significant, this one comes from members who originally supported the federal civil-rights law — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — which is at the heart of the mandate challenges,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund.
“The brief leaves no doubt that Congress intended to protect the religious freedom of those like Hobby Lobby and its founder, David Green, against federal attempts to force them to insure abortion-inducing drugs.”
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a bipartisan law introduced by then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Hatch, that attracted wide support among a number of organizations, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Southern Baptist convention.
According to the lawmakers’ brief, the mandate “turns the law of religious freedom upside down,” because instead of requiring the government to protect religion, it “places a heavy burden on religion and protects government by default.”
The document notes that Congress clearly wrote the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “to include corporations” such as Hobby Lobby and not merely individuals or religious organizations.
Additionally, 11 other friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed on behalf of Hobby Lobby.
The state of Oklahoma said that the operation “of the Green family’s corporations in a manner consistent with the Green family’s religious faith is no less worthy of respect and protection than is the religious faith practiced by church members through a church.”
“Being forced to pay for the termination of a human life is just as objectionable as being forced to participate in the termination of the human life,” added several health- professional organizations.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City also filed a brief in the case, saying the idea “that a federal court may don ecclesiastical robes and purport to tell citizens that they do not correctly perceive the tenets of their faith is entirely foreign to American legal practice and experience.”