- (Photo: Hobby Lobby)
- (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
The United States Supreme Court has officially scheduled oral arguments for what many believe will be a landmark case regarding religious liberty.
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a Midwest crafts retail chain, will get to present oral arguments against the Department of Health and Human Services' "preventive services" mandate on Tuesday, March 25.
Owned and operated by a Christian family who hold religious objections to providing abortion-inducing drugs to its employees, Hobby Lobby is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
At stake is the extent to which the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) applies to Hobby Lobby and other businesses' objection to providing various contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees, reported Scotusblog.
"Whether the [RFRA], which provides that the government 'shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion' unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest, allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation's owners," reads an entry on the blog.
A Question of Religious Freedom
In September 2012 Hobby Lobby's owners, the Green family, filed a lawsuit against HHS in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma regarding the controversial mandate.
At specific issue for the Greens was the providing of the "morning after" and "week after" pills, which are considered abortion-inducing and thus in opposition to the family's pro-life views.
Hobby Lobby President Steve Green told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that "our Founders gave us the religious freedoms that we have today and as a business we have the right to live according to those freedoms."
"The government is saying we have to provide prescriptions that are abortive and that violate our conscience, because we believe that life begins at conception and it's something that we have no desire to fully fund, which is what the mandate requires," said Green.
"We know that some of the freedoms in the First Amendment are available to for-profit companies…But, for some reason, the government says that in the religious freedoms that a for-profit company does not have those rights. I don't know where they see that. That's what the government is arguing in the courts. We'll just have to wait and see what the judges say."
The Road to the Supreme Court
Hobby Lobby's lawsuit to be exempted from the HHS mandate had its share of victories and defeats in the year it took for the case to be considered by the Supreme Court.
After filing suit in September 2012, Hobby Lobby found itself failing to get an injunction to protect itself from the fines associated with refusing to comply with the HHS mandate.
Eventually, last June, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling denying Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction.
In addition to the Becket Fund, in early 2013 Hobby Lobby also garnered support from many prominent individuals including members of Congress and the Oklahoma Attorney General.
Last July, Western Oklahoma District Court granted Hobby Lobby its preliminary injunction, leading the federal government to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In October, Hobby Lobby also filed an appeal with the Court, arguing that the highest court in the land should address the questions raised by their lawsuit.
By late November, the Court agreed to hear the case along with a similar appeal by Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation and last week the Court scheduled oral arguments for March.
The Rights of Average People
Critics of Hobby Lobby's position have argued that their policies interfere with the health care and religious freedom of their employees.
In keeping with this reasoning, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) briefly set up an online form meant for employees of various companies suing HHS to express their grievances.
"As part of our ongoing efforts to defend federal regulations requiring employers to provide health care coverage for contraception, we would like to hear from employees of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Woods Specialties Corporation and Eden Foods--or other for-profit companies that have challenged the regulations--that are dissatisfied with their company's pursuit to deny contraception coverage," read the online form, now closed, in part.
Rob Boston, communications director for AUSCS, told CP that while he could not go into specifics, his group was intent on "helping the people who are affected by these anti-contraceptive policies gain a voice in the courts."
"To date, much of the discussion has centered around the so-called rights of corporations to exercise religion," said Boston.
"In our view, the focus should be on the rights of average people who stand to risk losing access to needed medication because someone else's religion is being imposed on them."
Hobby Lobby's lawsuit against HHS is one of dozens across the U.S. filed in opposition to the preventive services mandate.
A decision from the highest Court in the nation on this issue will likely affect the other lawsuits found at lower court levels.