OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Christian activists attempted Thursday to deliver a petition to Hobby Lobby criticizing its challenge to a portion of the new federal health care law, but guards at the company's headquarters turned them away.
"I thought they'd let me drop off the package," said the Rev. Lance Schmitz, pastor of the Capitol Hill Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City.
Schmitz said more than 80,000 people had signed copies of a petition circulated nationwide by Faithful America, an online Christian group, and UltraViolet, which promotes women's rights. Schmitz said he intends to mail the petition to the company.
Lawyers representing Hobby Lobby this month sued the federal government claiming it should not be forced to provide workers with health insurance that covers the morning-after and week-after pills. Some say the drug's ability to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's womb is tantamount to abortion.
Hobby Lobby operates 500 arts and crafts stores in 41 states. Its Christian owners allege in the lawsuit that providing coverage for certain medications violates their "deeply held religious beliefs."
An attorney for the company, Kyle Duncan, said the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, respects the religious convictions of others, "including those who do not agree with them."
"All they are asking is for the government to give them the same respect by not forcing them to violate their religious beliefs," Duncan said.
But Schmitz and spokespersons for the Christian groups said the drugs are contraceptives and that women have a right to make their own medical decisions.
"Access to contraceptive care is a very good thing," Schmitz said. "This isn't about abortion. These pills do not cause abortion. It's contraception."
Michael Sharrard, spokesman for Faithful America, said a large part of his group's efforts "is to try to counter extremists" and that it represents the "mainstream majority."
"It's a woman's personal decision on what kind of birth control to use," said Cat Barr, campaign director for UltraViolet. "Hobby Lobby is out of touch with mainstream Americans. It's not their role to be dictating medical decisions."
The petitions accuse Hobby Lobby's owners of using their Christian faith as an excuse to obstruct health care reform and deny women access to birth control. Petitioners vow to not shop at Hobby Lobby until the lawsuit, filed on Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, is dismissed.
Duncan denied accusations that the company is attempting to block women's access to birth control.
"It's not true," Duncan said. "Hobby Lobby covers the vast majority of contraceptives, will continue to do so.
"The only people's rights that are being trampled on here are the Green family and the companies they operate," he said.
Duncan said Hobby Lobby provides generous health care benefits to its employees, including birth control. But the government is trying to force the company cover two specific drugs that the company's owners believe can cause early abortions.
"This is illegal and unconstitutional," he said.
The company claims that failure to provide the drugs in the company's health insurance plan could lead to fines of up to $1.3 million a day.
Duncan said the federal government's birth control guide states that drugs like the morning-after pill and the week-after pill can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb.
"Millions of Americans would consider that an early abortion," he said. "What the petitioners need to hear immediately is that the government cannot use healthcare reform as an excuse for trampling on religious rights."