Supreme Court Birth Control
Ed Andrieski/The Associated Press
By Greg Stohr

Hobby Lobby Stores' 600 U.S. craft shops close each Sunday, posting a notice that employees are spending the day with their families and at worship. It's a visible sign that the company is as focused on honoring God as it is on making money.

That dual mission is at the core of an ideological showdown over President Barack Obama's health care law, set for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Hobby Lobby is asking the court to give for-profit corporations the same religious freedoms as individuals, with potentially sweeping rights to opt out of laws they say are immoral. A victory for the company would also put a dent in a health care law that remains under siege on multiple fronts two years after the Supreme Court upheld its central provisions.

"Why as a family, because we've incorporated, do I have to give up religious freedoms, which are core to what our nation was founded on?" said Steve Green, the president of the Oklahoma City-based company and son of its founder.

The case comes to a court that four years ago expanded corporate speech rights under the First Amendment in the Citizens United campaign-finance case. The Hobby Lobby case focuses on the First Amendment's separate guarantee of "free exercise" of religion, along with a 1993 federal religious-rights law.

Corporations as People

Critics of Hobby Lobby's position say religious rights are personal -- and impossible to square with the nature of corporations. That's especially the case given that corporations are designed to limit the legal liability of their owners, said Caroline Mala Corbin, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law. Corporations "are not sentient, they have no soul, and they certainly do not have a relationship with God," Corbin said.

The justices will hear the Hobby Lobby case alongside a similar dispute involving Conestoga Wood Specialties, a woodworking business owned by a Mennonite family. The companies' lawsuits are among at least 47 filed by for-profit businesses opposed to the contraception requirement, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby.

Next week's argument will take place simultaneously with a lower court's consideration of a case that may pose an even more fundamental challenge to the health law. In that case, being argued at a federal appeals court a half-mile away in Washington, opponents of the law contend that people who buy insurance on federally run exchanges aren't eligible for tax credits to cut their premiums.

Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 by David Green, the son of a Christian minister. David Green is now one of five co-equal owners of the company, along with his wife, Barbara, and their three children. All five have signed statements declaring their religious faith and committing to run the business accordingly.

Christian Songs to Shop By

The company's religious character can be both subtle and unmistakable. In stores, Christian songs play in instrumental form, recognizable to adherents who know the music though not to other customers, Steve Green says. More visibly, Hobby Lobby buys hundreds of full-page newspaper ads at Christmas and Easter inviting people to "know Jesus as Lord and Savior."

At the same time, Hobby Lobby is a growing business, one with $3.3 billion in sales last year and ambitions to add 70 stores this year. It has at least 15,000 full-time employees. The company has long provided health insurance to those employees. Under its plan, Hobby Lobby covers 16 of the 20 federally approved contraceptives. The ones that aren't are Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' (TEVA) Plan B One-Step, Actavis (ACT) Ella and two types of intrauterine devices.

Steve Green said those four can work as "abortifacients" by preventing a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus. That's not a universal view. The manufacturers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say Plan B and Ella work primarily by preventing the release of an egg from the ovary. The American Medical Association considers pregnancy to begin when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus.

1993 Federal Law, 1990 Supreme Court Decision

The high court case focuses less on the science behind contraception than on the reach of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law enacted to nullify a 1990 Supreme Court decision that cut back constitutional protections for religious practices. The 1993 measure says that only in rare cases may the government "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion."

The Obama administration says that provision doesn't cover for-profit corporations. The government also contends that the Greens themselves can't claim a violation of their rights because the birth-control requirement doesn't impose any obligations on them as individuals.

Either way, the government says the contraceptive requirement doesn't impinge on religious rights because it is the woman, not the employer, who ultimately decides whether to use contraceptives.
"Those decisions by independent third parties are not attributable to the employer that finances the plan or to the individuals who own the company," U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued in court papers.

The company's lawyers say that argument is a backdoor effort to challenge the sincerity of the Greens' beliefs. The Greens "object to being forced to facilitate abortion by providing abortifacients, and that objection does not turn on the independent decisions of their employees," their lead lawyer, S. Kyle Duncan, contended.

'No Employer Mandate'

The birth-control rule is part of a broader Obama administration effort to ensure coverage for preventive care. The rule stems from the health care law's requirement that insurance plans provided by employers meet minimum standards.

Opponents say the administration has undermined its own case by carving out an exemption for churches and separately letting religiously affiliated nonprofit groups avoid paying for birth control directly. "The government consistently has said, 'We don't assert an overriding compelling interest to overcome religious objections,' " said Kevin Baine, a Washington lawyer who filed a brief backing the companies on behalf of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Administration supporters counter that accommodations for churches and religious nonprofits shouldn't force similar allowances for profit-making corporations. Although Hobby Lobby says it could be fined as much as $475 million a year for noncompliance, supporters of the requirement say the law gives employers another choice: not providing health coverage at all.

That would leave employees to buy insurance on the new exchanges set up by the health care law. Employers taking that approach must pay a penalty of as much as $3,000 per employee. "There's no employer mandate," said Walter Dellinger, a Washington lawyer and former solicitor general who filed a brief backing the administration. "It's a myth. You do not have to buy health insurance for your employees."

Hobby Lobby Win At Supreme Court Could Lead To More Anti-Gay Laws

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I don't believe as a Christian and tax payer I should have to pay for anyone's birth control. I should have the freedom to say no and none of my money should be spent that way. Do Christians have rights? or is it that they have them until it gets in the liberals way of doing things.

March 21 2014 at 10:41 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Snow's comment

The taxpayer is paying LESS when birth control is part of the package. Without birth control the insurance costs more because they now have to pay for unwanted live births or abortions.

When people have NO insurance, the taxpayer pays more because those people will head for the ER whenever something goes wrong and stick the taxpayer with the bill.

March 21 2014 at 11:37 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

I didn't believe in Bush's Iraqi war but I paid.
I don't believe in tax breaks and yet I pay for them.
I don't believe the rich should only pay 13-16% in taxes and yet I subsidize them.
Being part of a society means you can't pick and choose what taxes you pay (unless or course you are rich).

March 21 2014 at 1:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yet Hobby Lobby sources the vast majority of their merchandise from COMMUNIST / godless / anti-religion China. How exactly do they square that in their narrow minds?

OH, I forgot it's the classic profit and dollars before all else.

March 21 2014 at 10:10 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rj2860's comment

Nail on the head!

March 21 2014 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Only non-profits should be exempt. They make a profit. If they REALLY want to avoid the contraception part they should become a non-profit and give those profits to charities.

March 21 2014 at 10:06 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Hobby Lobby wants it both ways.....I am suprised they haven't said they are a church and therefore exemp from paying any taxes. Start your own Hobby Lobby church. Then you don't have to follow the rules for CORPORATIONS!!! In the meantime....GET A GRIP! .......Not EVERYONE of your employees are as you are, religiously biased.

March 21 2014 at 9:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lynda's comment

Well stated.

March 21 2014 at 9:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Folks, This poorly concocted plan called Obamacare is going to go away and soon! It was conceived by some fools who had no idea as to what they were doing! Granted all people need health coverage but not this Albatross! Stick a fork in it as it is Done!

March 21 2014 at 9:47 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to .'s comment

I hope for the sake of many Americans you are right. Problem is we have a president that NEVER admits that he has made a mistake and blames others for his failures. He might not want to let it go no matter how much damage it does to America. If he really cared about Americans, wouldn't he have repealed this by now?

March 21 2014 at 9:59 AM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply

They said the same thing about Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They are not going any ware and either is the Affordable Care Act. It is not perfect but it is a start. Millions now have insurance and no longer must run to the ER for every cut, stomach ache or fever. Even the rights own numbers hint at the future savings whereas the real numbers are quite clear.

Center for American Progress
Congressional Budget Office

March 21 2014 at 10:10 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

So, in the name of "religious freedom", we must deal with thousands of out of wedlock, and unwanted children. All because conservatives want to impede birth control. Maybe along with fighting birth control, these conservatives should take it upon themselves to adopt all these children.

March 21 2014 at 9:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to richard's comment

Worse from a conservative perspective is that a lack of birth control will, IMO, result in more abortions. I oppose abortion but not contraception. For those who oppose both, the moral question becomes tricky. As to cost, the failure to provide contraceptives increases the cost of insurance because paying for live births is more costly to insurance companies than providing contraceptives.

March 21 2014 at 9:29 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Maybe those bringing unwanted children into the world should do as conservatives do. Take responsibility and don't depend on the working taxpayer and the government to provide contraceptives for their sexual encounters. Can't afford contraceptives? Don't have sex. The Democrats won't say this because then they wouldn't get elected. Vote Democrat and stay poor!

March 21 2014 at 9:31 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jrb359's comment

You do know that the "conservative" states consume more of the federal tax dollars than they pay in - in particular welfare. Google 60 Minutes Social Security Fraud and you can watch the report on entire counties in the "conservative" south that are essentially entirely dependent on federal "disability". These are areas that vote overwhelmingly Republican.

March 21 2014 at 10:15 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down

Too funny! The "Red" states use far more in taxes then they pay out.

"Vote Democrat and stay poor!" Wow! The laughs ke4ep coming:

March 21 2014 at 10:16 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down

ACA is a Ponzi.........................Something from Nothing.

Still Nothin' !

Feds can't pay for it, not a Tax, a loss of Civil Rights !

March 21 2014 at 9:03 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to frank1946's comment

Yes something from nothing..."god" - made up hocus pocus to control the masses with "magic".

March 21 2014 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So according to H L. religious freedom trumps individual rights to believe as they choose?

March 21 2014 at 8:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Obsamacare is the problem

March 21 2014 at 7:27 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ectullis's comment

Today the government is the problem. They need to get OUT of our lives.

March 21 2014 at 9:37 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

No more shopping at hobby lobby for me.

March 21 2014 at 6:49 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply