July 20, 2013

Hobby Lobby store chain wins reprieve from fines

McClatchy Newspapers

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. won a temporary reprieve Friday from federal penalties of as much as $1.3 million a day for failing to offer insurance coverage for emergency contraceptives to its more than 13,000 employees.

The company would have been forced to pay the fines for failing to comply with a mandate on emergency contraceptives as part of the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby is suing the federal government over the law.

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green said the Green family would have continued its legal fight even if Hobby Lobby had not been successful in winning a preliminary injunction.

"This case is about life -- our deeply held conviction is that life begins with conception," Green said. "To offer prescriptions that take life is just not an option for us."

U.S. District Court Judge Joe Heaton granted Hobby Lobby's request for a preliminary injunction against paying the fines while its court case continues.

The Oklahoma City-based retailer has been battling for a legal exemption to a federal mandate obligating the firm to provide its employees insurance coverage for emergency contraception. The company and its owners, CEO David Green and four family members, believe that some types of contraception, including the "morning-after pill," are forms of abortion that conflict with the family's Christian beliefs.

Heaton earlier this year denied the company's motion for an injunction against potential penalties, but that ruling was overturned last month by a federal appeals court.

The panel of eight appellate court judges who heard arguments in May ruled unanimously that Hobby Lobby and its affiliated Christian bookstore chain Mardel have the right to sue over the Affordable Care Act.

"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," the judges said in the ruling.

The ruling was a blow to the federal government's argument that as for-profit corporations, the companies cannot claim that the health care law is a violation of constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

Heaton said Friday he did not agree with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals assertion that the religious freedom of for-profit corporations is protected under the U.S. Constitution and called the appellate court's view on corporations an "exotic definition of personhood."

"We are proceeding on the basis of political fiction that corporations have the right to exercise freedom of religion," Heaton said.


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