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December 27th, 2012
07:20 PM ET

Hobby Lobby faces millions in fines for bucking Obamacare

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN)– Craft store giant Hobby Lobby is bracing for a $1.3 million a day fine beginning January 1 for noncompliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare.

The company opposes providing some contraceptives to employees through its company health care plan on religious grounds, saying some contraceptive products, like the morning after pill, equate to abortion.

After failing to receive temporary relief from the fines from the Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby announced late Thursday through its attorneys that it "will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees. To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs."

In September, Hobby Lobby and affiliate Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain, sued the federal government for violating their owners' religious freedom and ability to freely exercise their religion.

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"All they're asking for is a narrow exemption from the law that says they don't have to provide drugs they believe cause abortions," Hobby Lobby attorney Kyle Duncan, a general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNN affiliate KFOR in November. "Our basic point is the government can't put a corporation in the position of choosing between its faith and following the law."

The lawsuit says the companies' religious beliefs prohibit them from providing insurance coverage for abortion inducing drugs. As of August 2012, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employer-provided health care plans to provide "all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the regulation and a narrow exemption was added for nonprofit religious employers whose employees "primarily share its religious tenets" and who "primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets."

In the face of that opposition, the Department of Health and Human Services tweaked its original rule in February to require health insurers, not employers, to cover the cost of contraception coverage, reasoning that would prevent religious groups from having to finance such coverage. Critics have argued that exemption for nonprofits is far too narrow and a host of nonprofit religious groups have sued the administration over the regulations.

The Internal Revenue Service regulations now say that a group health care plan that "fails to comply" with the Affordable Care Act is subject to an "excise tax" of "$100 per day per individual for each day the plan does not comply with the requirement." It remains unclear how the IRS would implement and collect the excise tax.

The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, based Hobby Lobby chain has more than 500 stores that employ 13,000 employees across 42 states, and takes in $2.6 billion in sales. The company's attorneys say January begins a new health care plan year for Hobby Lobby and that excise tax from the IRS would amount to $1.3 million a day.

Hobby Lobby is owned by CEO and founder David Green and members of his family. "The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles," a statement on the Hobby Lobby website reads, adding that one outgrowth of that is the store is closed on Sundays to give its employees a day of rest. Each year the company also takes out full-page ads in numerous newspapers proclaiming its faith at Christmastime and on Independence Day.

The store is not formally connected to any denomination, but the Green family supports numerous Christian ministries and is behind the Green Collection, one of the largest private collections of biblical antiquities in the world. The family plans to permanently house the collection in Washington at a museum set to open in 2016.

On Friday, attorneys for Hobby Lobby petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene and provide temporary relief from the the fines until the case was decided by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

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Wednesday evening, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from the 10th Circuit Court, said the company failed to meet "the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief," and that it could continue to pursue its challenge in lower courts and return to the higher court, if necessary, after a final judgment.

"Hobby Lobby will continue their appeal before the 10th Circuit. The Supreme Court merely decided not to get involved in the case at this time," Duncan said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on the high court's move.

White House officials have long said they believe they have struck an appropriate compromise between religious exemptions and women's health. The White House has not commented specifically on the Hobby Lobby case.

"It's just so sad that Hobby Lobby is facing this choice. What company, even a successful family owned business like Hobby Lobby, how can they afford the government $1.3 million in fines every day? It's just really absurd that government is not giving on this," said Maureen Ferguson, a senior policy adviser for the Catholic Association. Religious liberty groups like hers are watching the Hobby Lobby case closely.

"I am optimistic that these cases will eventually snake their way back up to the Supreme Court and given a full hearing on the merits of the case, I am confident that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of religious liberty," Ferguson said. "But in the meantime there is serious damage being done to businesses like Hobby Lobby and nonprofit charitable organizations."

The Hobby Lobby case is just one of many before the courts over the religious exemption aspects of the law. The case represents by far the biggest for-profit group challenging the health care mandate.

After this piece of the law went into effect in August, religious nonprofits were given "safe harbor" of one year from implementing the law. "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences," Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, said in January when the administration announced the move.

Dolan's New York Archdiocese won a victory this month in its legal battle against the administration and the mandate. In May it sued the government in federal court in Brooklyn over the mandate, saying it "unconstitutionally attempts to define the nature of the church's religious ministry and would force religious employers to violate their consciences."

The government moved to have the case dismissed. On December 4, Judge Brian M. Cogan denied the government's motion to dismiss the case, saying the government's promise of changes to how it will implement the law were not enough to merit dismissal. "There is no, 'Trust us, changes are coming' clause in the Constitution," Cogan wrote in in his decision to let the case proceed.

UPDATE: Hobby Lobby's $1.3 million Obamacare loophole

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church and state

soundoff (5,627 Responses)
  1. david defrank

    max you need a fatherly figure who can stop you claiming your super ego is in the no . ' dig up the bodies we found in abortion chambers garbage cans . there you will find babies capable of survival outside .............. .abortion is legal up to 9 months.thousands have been killed like this.the very avenue god himself choose to come in the world is under attack by satan and all you little screwtape fools.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  2. dcmoser

    How dare Hobby Lobby conduct their own business.. Let the government dictate what your business should do. After all, look how efficiently the government is run.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  3. Leisa

    SO we are not to "force" our beliefs on you but you can force your beliefs on us???? This is not a company going out forcing their beliefs on anyone, this is a company that work and paid for its own little space in this world from the ground up and is happy to hire people to help it run, give them a paycheck, a great place to work, and health insurance, it just won't pay for your abortion.......Really, your going to spend your time hating them. How about the companies that discriminate who they hire, who treat you horrible, don't buy you any insurance and hire sweat shops across the world to put together their products, who's CEO's take all the profit instead of spreading the wealth to those employees who do the hard work of getting them a paycheck? Why not spend your time fighting that kind of injustice????

    January 6, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  4. david defrank

    one more thing max how long did it take you to say such things to make up such great wit???????//

    January 5, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  5. david defrank

    good night

    January 5, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  6. david defrank

    liar swarastee.is it hard for you to see a ultra sound???????????if you ever had do you deny babies humanity?//if so you will be judged by your god and mine.dont put a dollar cost on life.its not for sale.

    January 5, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  7. david defrank

    wow kathrine sounds like a true feminist.a real ladies lady.with not many kisses for us men.wow katty watch women of grace on awtn.you may learn something about motherhood.

    January 5, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • david defrank

      ewtn

      January 5, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
  8. david defrank

    pete sweety .they murder over a million kids here every year.why do you buy usa???????????????????????

    January 5, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  9. david defrank

    katty facist?????????/was mother theresa a facist to.

    January 5, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  10. david defrank

    max are you playing dumb for your cause? let me respond yes..........are you for real?no.do you no roe ??/ no no.are you a baby killer and not no you trick people.no just a poor soul with no heart who lets others kill babies.it all starts with abortfacients.man you guys rock and roll .

    January 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  11. david defrank

    will wirk for 830:ooo dollars thats 830,000 plus meels.

    January 5, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  12. glonq

    Tax all churches.

    January 5, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • david defrank

      real funny.smoking that funny stuff like tom tom??????????????

      January 5, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  13. so sad.

    according to the 2nd amendment the right to bear arms is related to a well regulated militia. Any well regulated militias out there?

    January 5, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • david defrank

      your entry is incorrect.you once again got your facts wrong.just another poe like tomtom who is realy a female

      January 6, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  14. Mike

    The taxpayers in countries with universal health care have had to pay for abortions for decades. It may suck, but it is the price we pay for having free health care.

    January 5, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Saraswati

      You call it a price, but the rest of us call it a savings, in terms of both financial and emotional cost.

      January 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • david defrank

      mike i think you suck to.abortion is not health care its murder care.take a close look at all stages of a ultrasound.there you will see gods great creative process at its best.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Charlie

      You mention "free" health care. Where can I get this free health care??

      January 6, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  15. donner

    The right wing kooks in this country realize that the end is near. Their party and their philosophy is on the decline. But they will fight to the death. The plan is simple. Unlimited campaign funds so the rich can override millions of voters. Corporations not hiring to try and influence elections. Corporations dictating to employees who they should vote for. Corporations intruding into people's bedrooms by dictating insurance options. They will fight to the death. It will be a pleasure watching them die.

    January 5, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Katherine

      You are 100% correct, Donner ... it will be a pleasure for all sane American citizens to watch these fascists criminals die.

      January 5, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Sidney

      I agree. Obamacare is not "forcing" the owners, personally to pay for someone contraception. The "corporation" is having to. This is a corporation that sells to the public. They aren't a church with tax free status. I'm pro choice & the most unreligious person ever. I don't believe in God from any religion. But I could see the point of a church organization not wanting to pay because it goes against their beliefs. If they don;t pay for their employees contraception, as the Obamacare law states, because it's against their religious beliefs, then they are indeed forcing THEIR religious beliefs on their employees.

      January 5, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • david defrank

      donner you fortune teller?if you are you got to be the dummest person on this site.

      January 5, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • woody

      Sydney, and all you left-leaning thinkers who love to bash religion; why is it that its okay for the left to force their beliefs and ideologies on everyone else, but it's not okay for the right to stand up for theirs? I am amazed at how "tolerant"and enlightened the left is...as long as everyone agrees with them. Hypocrites of the highest order.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  16. TheRationale

    Religious zealots pushing their religion on their employees. The depths of religious stupidity know no bounds.

    January 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  17. Ryan

    To me, religious freedom is defined as the right to practice any religion, free from constraint. Not to impose your religion on your employees.

    January 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • chris rowland

      How is not buying something for someone an "imposition"? They pay their employees with money, the employees can go buy contraception, abortions, whatever they want to.
      If women are not "second class citizens", then they can "man up" and go buy those things for themselves, with the money their employer gives them. Or they can go find an employer who will pay for that stuff. Or they can start their own business. Adult women are free, equal citizens... stop portraying them as children who have to have their birth control and abortions bought for them.

      January 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Katherine

      Women don't have to have their contraceptives and abortions "bought for them" any more than men have to have Viagara bought for them. What's good for one is good for the other. Contraceptive should be furnished if viagara is furnished. We could take that ball of string and unravel it for miles, Ryan. Try minding your own damned business and get out of the birth control issue, you don't have the necessary hormones for making a legitimate comment..

      January 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Katherine, Preventing pregnancy is a valid health issue. IF you don't believe it, look up any of the numerous conditions worsened by pregnancy – it's estimated that for each pregnancy a woman has alzheimer's starts almost 3 years earlier. That's a national health issue. If you want to argue this is some sort of "choice" I say kick the 60+ % of overweight people off health plans...they cost more due to their behaviors.

      But what it gets right down to is that if you can refuse to provide one health benefit, you can refuse anything, cancer treatments, blood transfusions, anything. That may be the world you want to live in, but most people do not.

      January 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nobody is "buying contraceptives for women", you nitwit. People who work for HL pay premiums for their health insurance. Those premiums spread the costs of ALL prescriptions among all the employees. THAT is point of insurance. And birth control IS a basic health care need, just as surely as other medications people take on a daily basis for most of their lives.

      January 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  18. Fifth Eagle of the Discount Carpet Store

    Why is it wrong for a company not to provide contraception for people? Engaging in intimacy is a fully optional activity, why is it bad to ask people to buy their own birth control? I would understand a sense of anger if they said they wouldn't cover, say, cancer, or trauma from car accidents. This is patently unfair for the government to do.

    January 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Pete Sweddy

      What you don't understand is that 1) if they decide not to cover contraceptives based on their religion, they can do the same thing for cancer drugs, if their religion doesn't believe in medicine. Where do you draw the line? And 2) They are a for profit business, and they are not a church; they are breaking the law. 3)Based on s#x being a 2 person activity, Viagra shouldn't be covered, either.

      January 5, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Saraswati

      There is a ton of evidence that relationships are closer and marriages more successful when reugular se'xual intimacy takes place. This is both an emotional and physical health issue and allowing se'x and preventing pregnancy is a huge contributor.

      If you want to point to a few people who are having irresponsible se'x, that goes equally for irresponsible eating or driving too fast. There are a ton of risks people take and to pick one out, especially one that you won't be able to control or monitor, is to be working on a very specific religious agenda.

      January 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • david defrank

      my boy scout friend carpet flying fool.allmost all of them pills kill little babies and even bigger babies biger and biggerbiggerrst untill 9 months old . in those later stages a freak doctor buthers the holy baby to pieces.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • david defrank

      sorry fifth i missed your point.after reading your post again i see your logic.the questions confused me .i read no further thinking you were a confused idiot and immediatly posted my anger

      January 6, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  19. andres

    Hobby Lobby sticking to its religious beliefs, good for them. I think I'll go and buy that servo motor from them to help fund the fight against this type of government intrusion. Hobby lobby could avoid the fines by trickery, such as making each store separate and ensuring employees work less than full time. Good for them for standing up to the feds.

    January 5, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • TheRationale

      They're backwards religious morons who are refusing health care coverage to their employees. You seem to fall under that category as well.

      January 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Pete Sweddy

      They buy their sh!t from China, where they perform mandatory abortions. They are the biggest hypocrites alive.

      January 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Are you going to feel the same way when a Christian Scientist buys the owonly business in a small town and then refuses to provide any medical care at all? When your vegan pharmacist won't give you your meds because they were tested on animals?

      January 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  20. david defrank

    wow retard is mad a gunner you scare me

    January 5, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Max

      Uh, End Religion posted that, with good reason...look past the guns that I know you adore and recieve the MESSAGE!

      January 5, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • david defrank

      who cares who posted it max your all the same any way.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.