An appeals court said Thursday that Hobby Lobby and a sister company that sells Christian books and supplies can fight the nation’s new health care law on religious grounds, ruling the portion of the law that requires them to offer certain kinds of birth control to their employees is particularly onerous, and suggesting the companies shouldn’t have to pay millions of dollars in fines while their claims are considered.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain, along with Mardel bookstores, not only can proceed with their lawsuit seeking to overturn a portion of the Affordable Care Act, but can probably win.
The judges unanimously sent the case back to a lower court in Oklahoma, which had rejected the companies’ request for an injunction to prevent full enforcement of the new law.
“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable,” the judges wrote. “The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity.”
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Mardel Inc. and their owners, the Green family, argue for-profit businesses — not just religious groups — should be allowed to seek an exception if the law violates their religious beliefs. The owners approve of most forms of artificial birth control, but not those that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg — such as an IUD or the morning-after pill.
Hobby Lobby is the largest and best-known of more than 30 businesses in several states that have challenged the contraception mandate. A number of Catholic-affiliated institutions have filed separate lawsuits, and the court suggested faith-based organizations can follow for-profit objectives in the secular world.
“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other,” they wrote.
A majority of judges couldn’t decide whether the Oklahoma court had sufficiently addressed two parts of Hobby Lobby’s initial complaint and sent them back for further review at the local level.
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