OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Hobby Lobby Inc. and a sister company that sells Christian books asked an Oklahoma federal judge on Friday to ensure they wouldn't face "crushing fines" beginning next week as they press their fight against a portion of the nation's new health care law.
Two questions were left unresolved Thursday when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the companies could fight the government on religious grounds. The ruling directed the Oklahoma court to consider whether granting an injunction was in the public interest and whether the companies or the government would suffer the greater loss if an injunction were or weren't granted.
If an injunction is not granted, Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby and Mardel Inc. could faces fines of $1.3 million per day beginning Monday. To avoid the penalty, the companies can drop health insurance coverage and subject themselves to a $26 million fine or agree to provide insurance coverage for all types of birth control, even those they don't like.
The Christian owners of the arts-and-crafts retailer oppose birth-control
The Christian owners of the arts-and-crafts retailer and the Mardel bookstore chain approve of most forms of artificial birth control, but not those that prevent a fertilized egg's implantation such as an IUD or the morning-after pill. But the federal government says the companies cannot pick which portions of the Affordable Care Act with which they will comply.
The 10th Circuit decided that the companies were likely to prevail in their lawsuit — comparing the companies to a kosher butcher unwilling to adopt non-kosher practices as part of a government order — but said the lower court needed to address the unresolved issues.
"Especially given the Court of Appeals' finding that those fines unconstitutionally pressure plaintiffs to violate their religious beliefs, this court should easily find that protecting plaintiffs from that pressure is equitable and in the public interest," lawyers for the companies wrote.
The companies are seeking a ruling before Sunday night.
"We're hoping for a speedy and swift resolution, and we're doing everything in our powers to have that happen," said Emily Hardman, spokeswoman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group is representing the companies and their owners, the Green family.
Thursday's 10th Circuit decision overwhelmingly supported the companies' side.
Government lawyers did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. The government had not filed a response to Hobby Lobby's latest injunction request by midday Friday.
Hobby Lobby's lawyers have said the Department of Human Services has granted exemptions from portions of the health care law for plans that cover tens of millions of people and that allowing the companies an injunction would be no great burden to the government at the expense of the Greens' religious freedoms.
The attorneys also argued that the companies' fines could total $475 million in a year, while harms to the government are "minimal and temporary" because the companies will still provide 16 other methods of birth control.
"Hobby Lobby and Mardel ask only to be excused from covering four contraceptive methods out of twenty, not to be excused from covering contraception altogether," the lawyers wrote, borrowing language from Thursday's 10th Circuit decision. "The government does not articulate why accommodating such a limited request fundamentally frustrates its goals."
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