Hobby Lobby files brief with Supreme Court in HHS mandate case

Arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking protection from a federal mandate that requires coverage of contraceptives in workers' health insurance plans.

The brief, filed Feb. 10, called the mandate "one of the most straightforward violations ... this court is likely to see" of a 1993 law preserving the free exercise of faith.

Hobby Lobby's case is being represented by the Becket Fund, a religious liberty law firm. It is one of two cases to reach the Supreme Court that focus on requirements in the Affordable Care Act that employer-provided health insurance plans include coverage of contraceptives, sterilizations and other types of birth control that opponents say can induce an abortion. The other case involves Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania family-run company that makes cabinets.

The week before Hobby Lobby filed its brief with the court, the Oklahoma-based retailer, operated by the Green family, announced that it would open 70 new stores across the United States in 2014, dispelling rumors circulating through social media that the company would be forced to close stores in light of the lawsuit against the government. The company has about 16,000 full-time and 12,000 part-time employees.

Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby will be argued before the Supreme Court on March 25. The case is expected to determine whether the government has the power to force for-profit business owners to act against their faith. At issue in both cases will be First Amendment arguments that the contraceptive mandate violates the owners' Free Exercise rights as well as their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was enacted in 1993.

Specifically, Hobby Lobby said that the government is mandating they provide potentially life-terminating drugs and devices through their health insurance plans or face severe fines, even as it concedes that doing so will violate the Green family's beliefs. The Greens have said they have no moral objection to providing 16 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives under the HHS mandate. The company provides a broad range of contraceptives at no additional cost to employees under their self-insured health plan.

"Hobby Lobby's latest brief brings into even sharper focus the issue at the heart of this landmark case: No one should be forced to give up their constitutionally protected civil rights just to go into business," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund, said in a statement. "The filing demonstrates in no uncertain terms that the government's efforts to strip this family business of its religious rights represent a gross violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the Tenth Circuit's strong affirmation of the Greens' rights to live out their deeply held beliefs in every aspect of their business."

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