By SUZANNE HAUGH Special to the Bulletin | Published July 4, 2013
ATLANTA—The federal government’s stand on a controversial Health and Human Services’ mandate shows a “dangerous and problematic” disregard for the First Amendment right to exercise one’s religious beliefs, according to an attorney associated with litigation challenging the mandate. The impact is not limited to Catholic entities.
One striking example is Hobby Lobby’s court case against the mandate, which requires all employers to provide free of charge contraceptives, including abortion-inducing ones like Ella and Plan B, and voluntary sterilizations, even when these practices violate the moral tenets of the employer.
A June 27 ruling in the Hobby Lobby case is considered a major victory for recognizing the company’s right to contest the mandate’s objectionable requirements and the excessive burden created by fines for defying them.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver said the company has “established a likelihood of success that (its) rights … are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and established an irreparable harm.”
Since its founding 30 years ago, the Green family, owners of the family-run craft store, have integrated their beliefs as evangelical Christians into their business plan.
Aspects of the HHS mandate threaten to cripple the company. With over 500 stores in 41 states, including Georgia, Hobby Lobby would be required to pay $100 a day per employee if it refuses to comply with the HHS mandate. This would cost Hobby Lobby as much as $1.3 million each day it is not in compliance.
The for-profit company objects to offering and paying for abortion-inducing drugs—the day-after pill called Plan B and the week-after pill called Ella. Unlike the Catholic Church, Hobby Lobby owners have no religious objections to artificial contraceptives, according to Adele Keim, an attorney with The Becket Fund, the nonprofit law firm representing the family.
“The Green family are evangelical Christians who began a business in their garage 30 years ago that has grown into a multi-million dollar company,” Keim said. “They have pledged to run a business that honors God as they understand him.”
Family members have signed a “longstanding pledge” to use the personal assets from the for-profit company to share the Christian message and to offer business practices that benefit their employees.
The Becket Fund is “deeply concerned” by the HHS mandate, as it imposes “robust” expectations without exemptions for those whose religious beliefs forbid certain aspects of the HHS mandate. This is an unprecedented move that “flies in the face of the Constitution,” and is “dangerous and problematic,” Keim said.
“The government has given no help to owners of family businesses whose conscience, whose religion, forbids certain practices. There is no accommodation, no exemption, no religious liberty right. The government says you have no right to object.”
The Green family and The Becket Fund praised the court of appeals’ ruling, favoring Hobby Lobby.
David Green, founder and chief executive officer of Hobby Lobby, said in a statement,
“My family and I believe very strongly in our conviction that life begins at conception, and the emergency contraceptives that we would be forced to provide in our employee health plan under this mandate are contrary to that conviction. We believe that business owners should not have to be forced to choose between following their faith and following the law. We will continue to fight for our religious freedom, and we appreciate the prayers of support we have received.”