A judge has scheduled a hearing for Christian crafts retailer Hobby Lobby's request for preliminary injunction on the HHS mandate that would require the company to provide emergency contraception coverage or face steep fines. The company's Christian owner says the mandate would violate their religious beliefs because it forces the business to provide insurance covering "abortion-inducing" drugs such as the morning-after pill.
Hobby Lobby became the first evangelical employer to challenge the Obama administration's Health and Human Services contraception mandate after it filed a lawsuit in September. The Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby is one of the world's largest crafts retailer with 500 stores in over 40 states with over 13,000 full-time employees.
The Christian-owned-and-operated business wants the federal government to stop enforcement of the HHS mandate which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2013. The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 24 in Oklahoma City.
Hobby Lobby's owner and founder David Green, who built his company based on biblical principles, is among the 90 plaintiffs in 31 lawsuits to date that have sued the federal government over the mandate. Hobby Lobby and Green's wife Barbara are also listed as plaintiffs.
The Greens argue that that the HHS mandate would violate their First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"Being Christians, we don't pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don't cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one," said David Green in an op-ed for USA Today.
According to a legal filing submitted to the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Hobby Lobby says it will suffer imminent irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted. As a for-profit business, Hobby Lobby does not qualify for the government's "safe harbor," which delays the mandate's enforcement for one year against certain non-profit, non-exempt organizations.
On Friday, two Christian colleges, Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey, filed its opening brief in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals requesting that the court reverse a decision dismissing their lawsuits. A trial court had thrown out legal challenges by the Christian colleges, ruling that they are protected under the "safe harbor" provision.
But lawyers representing the two Christian colleges contend that the safe harbor allowance is not enough to guard the organizations from suffering imminent harm.
"Even though the government won't make religious colleges pay crippling fines this year, private lawsuits can still be brought, schools are at a competitive disadvantage for hiring and retaining faculty, and employees face the specter of battling chronic conditions without access to affordable care. This mandate puts these religious schools in an impossible position," said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The Becket Fund, which also represents Hobby Lobby in its challenge against the HHS mandate, has set up a webpage called "HHS Mandate Information Central" that provides updates on all the lawsuits opposing the mandate.
The D.C.-based organization is also encouraging visitors to its website to show their appreciate for the Green family's fight for religious liberty by sending them a "Thank You" note online.