A federal judge in Oklahoma City granted a preliminary injunction to Hobby Lobby Friday (July 19), sparing the popular arts and crafts chain from a penalty that could have reached $1.3 million a day. The order bars enforcement while the case proceeds challenging a controversial rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions.
Religious freedom advocates applauded the order.
"There's a long way to go, but this is good news for freedom of conscience," said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). "The HHS mandate is an egregious burden on the free exercise of religious convictions, and a vast coalition of us stands against it, and for liberty."
Kyle Duncan, general counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, "The tide has turned against the HHS mandate." The Becket Fund is representing Hobby Lobby in the case.
Hobby Lobby, which has more than 550 stores in the United States, and Mardel, a sister Christian bookstore chain, filed suit last year against the rule implementing the 2010 health care reform law. Members of the Green family -- evangelical Christians who own Hobby Lobby and Mardel -- do not oppose all contraceptive methods, only those that have abortion-causing qualities. They have said they will not obey the mandate.
The federally approved drugs in question include Plan B and other "morning-after" pills with a secondary, post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of embryos. The mandate also covers "ella," which in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486, can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
After federal judge Joe Heaton granted the injunction July 19, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green explained his company's position.
"This case is about life; our deeply held conviction is that life begins with conception. To offer prescriptions that take life is just not an option," he said, according to The Daily Oklahoman.
In his opinion Heaton said, according to the Becket Fund, "There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved."
He disagreed, however, with an opinion by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that religious freedom protections extend to for-profit corporations, describing it as an "exotic definition of personhood," The Oklahoman reported.
Heaton originally refused to grant a preliminary injunction, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals June 27 reversed his decision and instructed him to reconsider. The appeals court said Hobby Lobby and Mardel had demonstrated they probably would prevail in showing that the mandate infringes on their religious freedom.
The next day, Heaton issued a temporary restraining order preventing the mandate from going into effect July 1 and sparing the retail chains from the penalty.
The Obama administration's final rule on the abortion/contraception mandate does not provide a religious liberty accommodation to for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel. Religious liberty advocates said it also fails to remedy the conscience problems for non-profit organizations that object.
More than 60 federal lawsuits have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate. Courts have granted injunctions to 23 for-profit corporations and refused to issue injunctions or restraining orders for seven companies, according to the Becket Fund. No action has been taken in four lawsuits by for-profit companies.
The ERLC and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lead a coalition of diverse religious organizations that have urged the Obama administration to protect freedom of conscience under the mandate.
Hobby Lobby seeks to honor God "by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles," according to its statement of purpose. Its stores are closed on Sundays. The Oklahoma City-based chain contributes to Christian organizations selected by the Green family that seek "to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world," according to its website.
The case is Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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