OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) — A federal judge has ruled that Hobby Lobby and Mardel stores must cover abortion-causing drugs for their employees as required by the Obama administration because the companies — despite having faith as a central element of their operations — are not religious enough to warrant a court intervention.
Represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Hobby Lobby and Mardel had argued that requiring them to pay for the drugs, which come under brand names such as Plan B and ella, would violate the faith of their owners, not to mention the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. Judge Joe Heaton, nominated by President George W. Bush, disagreed, saying the law was not unconstitutional.
Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts store chain, while Mardel is a Christian bookstore chain. Both are owned by the Green family. The companies are self-insured, and their health care plans take effect Jan. 1. They had requested a temporary injunction.
“Churches and other religious organizations or religious corporations have been accorded protection under the free exercise clause,” Heaton, of the U.S. District Court in western Oklahoma, wrote. “… However, Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations. Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion …”
The ruling Monday (Nov. 19) came three days after another federal judge reached a different conclusion in siding with Bible publisher Tyndale in its suit against what has become known as the abortion/contraceptive mandate. That judge also was nominated by Bush. Including the Tyndale case, three federal judges this year have ruled against the mandate. At least 40 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate. The Supreme Court eventually may get involved.
The Becket Fund says it will file an appeal on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Mardel.
“Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund. “The Green family needs relief now and we will seek it immediately from the federal appeals court in Denver.”
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 runs full-page ads in newspapers during the Easter and Christmas seasons with Gospel-centered messages.
“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,” David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, said in September. “… We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”
In his ruling, Heaton said Hobby Lobby and Mardel “do not have constitutional free exercise rights as corporations.” He cited a Supreme Court case and said the “plain import is that there must be more than some burden on religious exercise. The burden must be substantial.”
Green said religious liberty is at stake.
“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 the Department of Health and Human Services 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 abortion/contraceptive 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).