July 19 2013

UPDATE: Hobby Lobby Heads Back to Court

Hadley Heath

Hobby Lobby is one of more than 200 plaintiffs challenging ObamaCare's onerous "HHS mandate" that requires all employers (except churches) to provide first-dollar coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives.  In the case of Hobby Lobby, the store owners have deeply held religious beliefs about abortion and refuse to provide insurance coverage for the morning-after pill (Plan B"), the week-after pill ("Ella"), or intrauterine devices (which can be used as emergency contraception, resulting in the termination of a fertilized egg).

Hobby Lobby, along with its sister company, Mardel Christian bookstores, has already been before a federal district court where an injunction was denied.  They appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and received a very favorable opinion on June 27, indicating that their case has a good chance.  As a result of this ruling (and the immediate nature of their fines, which would have started accuring on July 1 to the tune of $1.3 million per day), a federal court judge issued a restraining order until the district court could reconsider an injunction (which it will do in today's hearing).

I had the pleasure of meeting the owners recently (the Green family), and I can tell you their case is sincere. Hobby Lobby is well-known for its evangelical Christian business practices: The stores are closed every Sunday, and around Christmas time the store takes out full-page newspaper ads to publicize the true meaning of Christmas.  Furthermore, the stores make efforts to care for their workers by paying their workers above minimum wage and including benefits, even for what are typically minimum wage jobs.

The Becket Fund, who is handling the litigation in this case, said this in an email to supporters:

"What happens on July 19th, however, will be an even greater milestone in this fight. First, it's important to note the conclusions that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals came to. The court ruled that denying Hobby Lobby the protection of federal laws designed to secure religious liberty just because they are a profit-making business 'would conflict with the Supreme Court's free exercise precedent.' In fact, the court found that the heavy fines of the mandate unconstiutionally pressure Hobby Lobby to violate their religious beliefs."

The "scorecard" on cases like Hobby Lobby's is good: Of the 30 cases (filed by for-profit plaintiffs) that have been decided on the merits, 23 have received injunctive relief.  Hobby Lobby is included in the 23, since they are currently protected by a restraining order.  Today's hearing is pivotal - not only in the pursuit of a more secure injunction - but in the longer road to the Supreme Court, where the issue of the HHS mandate will ultimately be heard. At stake is not just the tens of thousands of jobs at Hobby Lobby, but the greater issue of religious freedom and First Amendment rights.

UPDATE (11:30 am): The plaintiffs succeeded this morning in obtaining a preliminary injunction.  Below is an excerpt from The Becket Fund's press release:

Today, a federal court granted Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. a preliminary injunction against the HHS abortion-drug mandate, preventing the government from enforcing the mandate against the Christian company.  This victory comes less than a month after a landmark decision by the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled 5-3 that Hobby Lobby can exercise religion under the First Amendment and is likely to win its case against the mandate.

“The tide has turned against the HHS mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and lead attorney for Hobby Lobby.

In an opinion read from the bench, the court said, “There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved.”

This is a major victory for not only Hobby Lobby, but the religious liberty of all for-profit businesses.

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