.- A district court has ruled that the national craft chain Hobby Lobby may move forward with its lawsuit against the federal contraception mandate without being penalized for violating the regulation.
“Hobby Lobby and the Green family 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, which represents Hobby Lobby, in a June 28 press release.
“We are delighted that both the 10th Circuit and the district court have spared them from this unjust burden on their religious freedom.”
On June 28, the Federal District Court of Western Oklahoma ruled that Hobby Lobby will receive a temporary injunction to protect it from compliance with the federal contraception mandate and the penalties that accompany it.
The Green family founded Hobby Lobby in an Oklahoma City garage in 1972. While the company has grown to include over 500 stores in more than 40 states, the family has maintained a strong Christian identity in operating the business, closing all stores on Sundays, making donations to charity and maintaining minimum wages that are above the national standard.
The company and its owners are currently engaged in a legal battle against a federal mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that may cause early abortions.
Finalized last week, the mandate exempts some religious organizations, but it makes no allowance for the religious beliefs of individuals running for-profit businesses.
More than 200 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the mandate, challenging that it violates their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
The Greens do not object to the provision of most contraceptives, which are already included in their health care plan. However, they do have religious objections to the “morning-after” and “week-after” pills, which are also included in the mandate. These drugs can end the life of a newly-conceived human embryo, causing an early abortion.
The family had requested a preliminary injunction to protect the company from being subject to fines of up to $1.3 million per day while the case worked its way through the court system.
Courts on several different levels had previously denied the injunction request. However, in December 2012, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Hobby Lobby en banc consideration of its appeal and then ruled to send the case back to a lower district court for more argument and further consideration.
In doing so, the appeals court argued that Hobby Lobby and the Green family had “established a likelihood of success” in their case against the mandate, and that the regulation “substantially burdened” their religious freedom, causing “irreparable harm.”
The appeals court also observed that “no one disputes the sincerity of Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs,” critiquing the federal government's claim that the company’s “secular, for-profit” status disqualifies its owners from exercising their constitutional right to religious freedom.
Hobby Lobby will now be able to continue with its lawsuit free from threat of penalty. Further hearings on the case are scheduled on July 19 in Oklahoma City.