"Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs. The Green family needs relief now and we will seek it immediately," Duncan said Nov. 19.
The case is the latest in the controversy over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. Its narrow religious exemption applies only to non-profit organizations which aim to spread religious values and which employ and serve primarily people of their religion.
Employees who violate the mandate risk fines of $100 per employee per day. Hobby Lobby, which employs over 13,000 full-time employees, said it faces a daily $1.3 million fine beginning Jan. 1, 2013 if it ignores the law.
A lawyer for the federal government said the drugs do not cause abortions and the U.S. has a compelling interest in mandating insurance coverage for them, the Associated Press reports.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton of the Western District of Oklahoma on Monday ruled that Hobby Lobby and Mardel "are not religious organizations." The judge also noted that the plaintiff's lawyers did not cite any case and the court did not find any case concluding that "secular, for-profit corporations" such as Hobby Lobby have "a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion." He said the mandate only "indirectly" burdens the Greens' religious beliefs.
Judge Heaton wrote that the court is "not unsympathetic" to the company's dilemma. He said the 2010 health care law's expansion of employer obligations has caused "concerns and issues not previously confronted by companies or their owners."