Hobby Lobby suing feds over birth control mandate

David Green

OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) - Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is suing the federal government over a requirement in President Barack Obama's health care law that employers provide their workers with birth control coverage. The arts and crafts retailer and fellow plaintiffs David Green, Barbara Green, Steve Green, Mart Green and Darsee Lett, in their suit, describe themselves as "committed evangelical Christians." David Green serves as CEO of the chain, which, according to its website, has 514 stores nationwide. Hobby Lobby has two stores in West Virginia -- one in Barboursville and another in Beckley. In its 40-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma Wednesday, the store argues that the mandate would force "religiously-motivated business owners," such as themselves, to "violate their faith under threat of millions of dollars in fines." "The Green family believes they are obligated to run their businesses in accordance with their faith," the complaint states. "Commitment to Jesus Christ and to Biblical principles is what gives their business endeavors meaning and purpose." According to its website, Hobby Lobby, located in Oklahoma City, started as an outgrowth of Greco Products, a miniature picture frames company founded in a garage by David Green in 1970. "The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles," the chain's website states. For example, its store hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and all of its locations are closed on Sundays. "The Green family's religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices," Hobby Lobby's complaint states. The store argues that the health care law's administrative rule, or mandate, "runs roughshod" over the Green family's religious beliefs -- and the beliefs of millions of other Americans -- by forcing them to provide health insurance coverage for birth control and other "abortion-inducing drugs," as well as related education and counseling. "The mandate illegally and unconstitutionally coerces the Green family to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties and lawsuits," according to the complaint. With more than 13,000 full-time employees, Hobby Lobby contends it faces fines of about $26 million a year -- that is, if it drops employee insurance altogether -- and additional fines of $1.3 million a day if it chooses to offer insurance that does not include all of the mandated drugs and services. "Having to pay fines for the privilege of practicing one's religion or controlling one's own speech is alien to our American traditions of individual liberty, religious tolerance and limited government," the store's complaint states. "It is also illegal and unconstitutional." Hobby Lobby argues that the federal government has "no power" to determine that businesses or their owners deserve "third-class protection" for their religious faith. "Religious freedom is the birthright of every American," it writes in its complaint. Further, the store argues that the mandate is illegal because it was imposed without prior notice or sufficient time for public comment. Hobby Lobby is asking the federal court to declare that the mandate and its enforcement violate the First and Fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; that it was issued in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act; and issue a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the mandate against the chain and others that object on religious grounds. From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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