WASHINGTON (BP) — Evangelical-owned Hobby Lobby has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraceptive/abortion mandate, becoming the largest business yet to take action against the rule and underscoring once again that the issue impacts more than just Catholics.
With more than 500 stores in 41 states, Hobby Lobby’s owners always have made their faith a central part of their business. Their stores play Christian instrumental music and are closed on Sundays. Hobby Lobby contributes to Christian organizations and during Easter and Christmas runs full-page ads with Gospel-centered messages in newspapers.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, requires businesses to purchase insurance plans that cover contraceptives, including “emergency” contraceptives that can cause chemical abortions. The latter drugs often are labeled morning-after pills and come under brand names such as Plan B and ella. They can work before implantation and — in the case of ella — after implantation.
Hobby Lobby is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the suit Wednesday (Sept. 12). There now are 28 separate suits against the mandate, although most of them involve religious organizations that will be impacted by the rule, according to Becket.
Although Hobby Lobby’s insurance plans cover contraceptives that are preventative in nature, the company won’t cover anything that causes a chemical abortion, says David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO.
“These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and 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,” Green said during a conference call with reporters. “… We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”
The mandate went into effect Aug. 1, but Hobby Lobby won’t be impacted until Jan. 1, when the new insurance year for its employees begins.
The mainstream media has focused most of its attention on Catholic organizations and has rarely used the word “abortion” in reporting on the controversy, but the reality is much different, said Becket Fund attorney Kyle Duncan.
“We hope that this lawsuit, on behalf of such a large and prominent evangelical Christian business, will draw attention to the fact that the government is trying to force people of all different faiths to violate their faith,” Duncan said during the conference call. “This is not by any means a Catholic-only issue. Some of the drugs involved in the mandate can cause an early abortion. And many Americans who are not Catholic have a problem with this.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, asserts the mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of religion, speech and association. It asks the court to issue an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the mandate. In a separate case in July, a federal court issued a ruling preventing the mandate from being enforced against a Colorado business whose owners are devout Catholics, but the ruling applied only to that business.
Hobby Lobby would face millions of dollars in fines if it does not comply. If it chose simply to drop insurance for employees altogether, it would face fines of $26 million per year, Duncan said. If it chose to offer insurance but simply not comply with the mandate, the fines would be even larger: more than $400 million per year, he said.
“The government has turned a deaf ear to the rights of business owners,” Duncan said.
Perhaps countering what critics will say about Hobby Lobby and the lawsuit, Green said the company cares about its employees.
“That’s why, unlike most major retailers, we are open only 66 hours per week and are closed on Sunday, to allow our employees to spend time with their family,” Green said.
Also, the company’s minimum wage for full-time employees is 80 percent above the national minimum wage, he said.
The issue is about religious liberty, Green said.
“Hobby Lobby has always been a tool for the Lord’s work,” he said. “… For me and my family, charity equals ministry, which equals the Gospel of Jesus Christ. … But now our faith is being challenged by the federal government.”
The mandate was announced by HHS in August 2011 as part of the health care law championed by President Obama. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law in June of this year, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the contraceptive/abortion mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups the most controversial part of the law.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).