Hobby Lobby's case for exemption from a part of the Affordable Care Act that requires religious employers to cover Plan B and Ella One emergency contraceptives that can cause early abortion was argued in court on Thursday.
An eight-judge panel (one judge was absent) in the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., granted the Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain a full court hearing, which Hobby Lobby's attorneys' believe is significant because a full-court hearing is rarely granted. "It's a very rare step, because the nine-judge panel hears the most significant cases," said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who's one of six attorneys working on behalf of Hobby Lobby.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund, argued the case Thursday for the Green family, who own Hobby Lobby and the Christian bookstore Mardel, in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, and the government was represented by the Justice Department. Each side had 30 minutes to present their arguments to the court.
Windham told CP that the appellate court usually takes several months to make its decision, but they're hopeful the ruling will be expeditious because on July 1 the mandate will kick-in and Hobby Lobby will begin accruing penalties that could amount to $1.3 million a day, which is why they're asking the court to act quickly.
If Hobby Lobby loses its case, Windham said the next step will be to argue the case before the Supreme Court, although her team is confident the court's decision will be in their favor.
"This is a very important case because what's at stake here is whether you have to give up your religious beliefs if you go into business and whether the government can take your religious freedom away," Windham said. "The government has said the mandate is not a substantial burden on the Green family, but they're clearly wrong."
A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice argued that allowing for-profit corporations to exempt themselves from requirements that violate their religious beliefs would be tantamount to businesses imposing their beliefs on employees, according to Fox News.
Duncan believes the government is taking the position that if you're in a profit-driven business, you have no rights. "Business owners ought to be able to go into a court and argue that their rights should be protected," Duncan said. "This case is at the forefront of the challenge to the mandate."
"Hobby Lobby has no objections to most contraceptives," Duncan added. "They're objecting to a narrow subset of drugs – sometimes called emergency contraceptives – that violates their belief that life should be protected from the moment of conception. The government admits that these drugs can act that way – to put newly conceived life at risk."
"The only issue here is whether Hobby Lobby and the Green family can be forced to violate their religious beliefs to cover this narrow subset of drugs, or whether the government can threaten them with draconian penalties to force them to give up their faith.
According to the Becket Fund website, there are 52 separate lawsuits challenging the Health and Human Services mandate.
Although the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals is a nine-judge panel, the case was heard by only eight judges because one judge has senior status and is semi-retired.