JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) -- It's not theoretical any longer.
Hobby Lobby -- a business owned by Christians seeking to run their company on biblical principles -- is currently in jeopardy of government fines of $1.3 million PER DAY for its principled refusal to provide to employees contraceptive healthcare coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs.
I don't know of a more obvious example of the endangerment of religious freedom in America than that faced by Hobby Lobby and all other businesses owned by those who stand for the sanctity of human life.
This threat has been growing ever since President Obama signed the 2010 health care reform bill into law. Yet, even with a flurry of lawsuits filed by various kinds of for-profit businesses owned by evangelical, Catholic and Mennonite believers and religious non-profits not exempted by the Obama administration's onerous mandate, it seems many Christians are unaware or unconcerned about this matter.
As Baptist Press reported, Hobby Lobby will not compromise its beliefs and remains at risk for the exorbitant fines after losing several rounds in federal courts.
The threat faced by the Oklahoma-based company is very real, even though a number of other similarly situated for-profit businesses have received temporary judicial relief from the mandate required by the Obama administration's implementation of the healthcare reform law.
Further, the threats to religious colleges -- including Baptist schools -- and other religious non-profits not included in the very narrow exemption permitted by the Department of Health and Human Services also remain, even after several promising rulings by federal courts.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, for example, ruled Dec. 18 the mandate cannot be enforced while it awaits the government's promised re-write of the regulations that may address the concerns of religious non-profits. Still, there are no guarantees that the new regulations will in fact provide true religious freedom to such organizations.
Further, even if the new regulations are satisfactory for religious non-profits, undoubtedly they will not provide any protection to for-profit businesses with owners, like Hobby Lobby, who conscientiously object to providing morally objectionable "health care."
Hobby Lobby is a national crafts retailer with more than 500 stores and more than 13,000 full-time employees. (The mandate applies to businesses with more than 50 employees.) It's the largest business to challenge the Obamacare "birth control" mandate.
Hobby Lobby is widely known for its Christian convictions, which include running the family business according to biblical principles, not doing business on Sunday, employing Christian chaplains for its employees, and publishing advertising with Gospel messages during holiday seasons.
"It's by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured," said David Green, its founder. "Therefore, we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles."
Because of those principles, Hobby Lobby will not provide coverage in its self-insured healthcare plan that includes abortion-inducing birth control. At some point this year -- when its new plan begins -- it apparently will be subject to fines of $1.3 million per day. (It was initially reported Hobby Lobby would be subject to the fines beginning Jan. 1, but the company has found a way to shift its plan year, thus postponing the beginning of the plan year. The company has not said publicly what the new date is.)
In November, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton in Oklahoma rejected Hobby Lobby's lawsuit seeking protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Heaton said RFRA does not protect Hobby Lobby because a company is not a "person" under the law. He said the claim that businesses enjoy free exercise of religious rights is "uncharted waters." The company also failed to get temporary relief from a court of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court while its case is pending.
The ruling against Hobby Lobby, however, is contrary to the results of lawsuits brought by nine other businesses that have won temporary reprieves from the mandate.
On Dec. 28, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago granted an emergency motion to Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc., a family-owned construction business in Highland, Ill. The Korte family is Catholic and seeks to run its business according to its religious convictions, which include an objection to any kind of contraceptive drugs -- abortion inducing or otherwise. On this point most evangelicals will not be in agreement with Catholics (on non-abortifacient drugs). Nevertheless, the principle of religious liberty demands that evangelicals defend Catholics against government requirements that violate their conscience.
Losing in the trial court an effort to block enforcement of the mandate, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a motion with the Seventh Circuit seeking an injunction to stop application of the mandate while the Korte case is considered. The appeals court granted the motion.
Of particular note, the Seventh Circuit rejected the argument of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals against Hobby Lobby's request for temporary relief.
"The religious-liberty violation at issue here inheres in the coerced coverage of contraception, abortifacients, sterilization, and related services, not -- or perhaps more precisely, not only -- in the later purchase or use of contraception or related services," the Seventh Circuit ruled (emphasis in original).
ACLJ helpfully explains the "absurdity" of the Obama administration's argument against the application of religious freedom to religious employers:
"Simply put, the injury to an employer's religious beliefs occurs from the mandate forcing the employer, under pain of penalty, to arrange for and pay for insurance that provides drugs and services the employer deems immoral, whether or not those drugs and services are ever prescribed or used.... Continued...