Hobby Lobby Can’t Avoid Health Care Mandate

Posted December 27, 2012 in Government Labor and Employment by

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Following a federal appeals court ruling that Hobby Lobby can’t delay complying with the contraception mandate in the “Obamacare” legislation, the company’s Christian owners say they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November denied Lobby owner David Green’s attempt to skirt the mandate, which goes into effect January 1, 2013, based on his argument that it violates his religious freedom. On Dec. 21, the court said no to Green’s request to put off compliance while he appeals the November ruling.

 

‘Religious Employer’ Read Narrowly

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires that employers offer their employees health insurance that includes preventive benefits such as birth control.

The Obama administration has had to defend the mandate against some employers who don’t want to pay for the inclusion of the morning after pill and other methods of contraception, which they object to as forms of abortion.

Whether those objections are successful seems to depend on whether the employer is an actual religious organization, not just an employer with strongly held religious beliefs, and that usually comes down to its status as a non-profit versus a for-profit business.

For-profit companies simply don’t have religious rights, say the federal courts, which have denied most for-profit employers’ attempts to avoid the mandate. But courts have allowed the ones considered “religious employers” to take advantage of an exception in the law.

Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, for example, succeeded on Dec. 18 in convincing a panel of federal trial judges to exempt it from the mandate. The college had earlier been turned down. 

 

The Lobby Is Not Burdened

But Green’s Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores based in Oklahoma City, appears to fall in the latter category. The 10th Circuit agreed with the lower federal court that Green failed to prove that the mandate substantially burdens his exercise of religion – the standard required under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Green is represented by the Becket Fund, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that litigates on behalf of religious organizations. “The Green family is disappointed with this ruling,” said a lawyer for the Fund in a press release. “They simply asked for a temporary halt to the mandate while their appeal goes forward, and now they must seek relief from the United States Supreme Court.”

 

Regs Promised

The Obama administration, via the Department of Health and Human Services, has promised to write new regulations that more clearly exempt religious employers. HHS had earlier given religious employers extra time to comply with the law.

The administration’s lawyers have said it never plans to enforce the mandate in the case of employers like Belmont Abbey or Wheaton College, according to Professor Steven Schwinn’s Dec. 19 post on Constitutional Law Prof Blog.

Schwinn points out that the court in the Wheaton case, for example, said, “We take the government at its word and will hold it to it.”

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