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Hobby Lobby saved from hefty mandate fines

WASHINGTON (BP) — Hobby Lobby gained relief just in time to avoid a hefty penalty for refusing to comply with the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.

A federal court blocked enforcement June 28 against the popular craft store chain of a federal regulation that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions. The temporary restraining order prevented the mandate from going into effect Monday (July 1) and spared Hobby Lobby a penalty that could have reached $1.3 million a day.

The next step in a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby and a sister Christian bookstore chain, Mardel, is a July 19 hearing regarding their request for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the abortion/contraception mandate while the court case continues.

The order from Joe Heaton, federal judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, came only a day after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled Hobby Lobby and Mardel had demonstrated they probably would prevail in showing their religious freedom had been infringed on by the mandate. The eight judges for the 10th Circuit also instructed the lower court to reconsider whether it should grant an injunction.

A lawyer representing Hobby Lobby commended both courts.

Hobby Lobby and its owners “faced the terrible choice of violating their faith or paying massive fines starting this Monday morning,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “We are delighted that both the 10th Circuit and the district court have spared them from this unjust burden on their religious freedom.”

The Obama administration issued final rules on the abortion/contraception mandate the same day Heaton issued his order in the Hobby Lobby case. The rules did not provide a religious liberty accommodation to for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel, and religious freedom advocates said they failed to remedy the conscience problems for non-profit organizations that object.

Hobby Lobby, which has 550 stores in the United States, and Mardel filed suit last year against the portion of the 2010 health care reform law that requires employers to pay for coverage of drugs defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraceptives, even if they can cause abortions. Members of the Green family — evangelical Christians who own Hobby Lobby and Mardel — do not oppose all contraceptive methods, only those that have abortion-causing qualities. They have said they will not obey the mandate.

The FDA-approved drugs in question in the case include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills with a secondary, post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The mandate also covers “ella,” which — in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 — can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.

More than 60 lawsuits have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate. Before the June 28 order, Hobby Lobby had been one of only seven for-profit companies that had failed to win an injunction or restraining order blocking enforcement of the controversial requirement while their suits proceeded in court, according to the Becket Fund. Courts now have granted injunctions or restraining orders to 22 for-profit corporations. No action has been taken in four lawsuits by for-profit companies.

The Obama administration’s final rules for the abortion/contraception requirement extended the implementation date for Christian institutions and other non-profit organizations from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1, 2014. It will take effect when each organization’s health plan begins a new year. The mandate’s start-up date for for-profit organizations was Aug. 1 of last year.

Hobby Lobby seeks to honor God “by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,” according to its statement of purpose. Its stores are closed on Sundays. The Oklahoma City-based chain contributes to Christian organizations selected by the Green family that seek “to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world,” according to its website.

The case is Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius.
Compiled by Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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