Hobby Lobby Wages War on Birth Control | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Hobby Lobby Wages War on Birth Control


Ronni Mott

The Green family is headed to Washington, D.C., for its day in court—the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Greens own a chain of arts-and-crafts stores, Hobby Lobby, which has 590 stores, including one in Flowood, and more than 13,000 employees nationwide. The private company's operating principles include, "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles."

That includes demanding the right to deny their employees coverage for birth-control pills under their health insurance.

On Feb. 10, attorneys for Hobby Lobby filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court for relief of some of the insurance-coverage mandates of the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the Greens object to four forms of birth control mentioned in the bill that may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's womb. They consider the methods abortifacients.

"Respondents believe human beings deserve protection from the moment of conception, and that providing insurance coverage for items that risk killing an embryo makes them complicit in abortion," the suit states.

The lawsuit has seen mixed results in the lower courts. An Oklahoma appeals court disagreed with the Greens, while a Texas court agreed.

The Greens allege that the ACA is violating their freedom to practice their religion. The main thrust of their legal argument rests on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and it hangs on the court's willingness to see Hobby Lobby as a "person" under the law, as it did in the Citizens' United case in 2010. That case opened the floodgates of "dark money" for political candidates, but it did not touch on individual rights.

Attorneys for the Greens cite an arcane law called the Dictionary Act, which states that, unless otherwise specified, "the words 'person' and 'whoever' include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals."

In 2011, the Oxford University Press pointed out just how outdated the Dictionary Act is: "The Act specifies that signature includes 'a mark when the person making the same intended it as such.' Apparently there's a lot of insanity in the law, because the Dictionary Act finds it necessary to specify that the words 'insane' and 'insane person' and 'lunatic' shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis.

"The Dictionary Act also tells us that 'persons are corporations ... as well as individuals,' (with rights) to 'personal privacy.' (The Act doesn't specify whether 'insane person' includes 'insane corporation.')"

The government's argument is that for-profit corporations have no standing under RFRA, which says, in part, that the "government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." It cites exceptions—religious organizations and religious-based non-profits—but not ordinary corporations.

"The (Texas court's) overly expansive decision will permit a secular, for-profit corporation's owners or shareholders to impose their religious beliefs on employees by denying female employees access to preventive health care, including insurance coverage for contraception," the government argues. "Congress could not have anticipated, and did not intend, such a broad and unprecedented expansion of RFRA. Nor did Congress intend for courts to permit for-profit corporations and their shareholders to use RFRA to deny female employees access to health care benefits to which they are otherwise entitled."

" ... The test Congress reinstated through RFRA ... extended free-exercise rights only to individuals and to religious, non-profit organizations. No Supreme Court precedent had extended free-exercise rights to secular, for-profit corporations."

Hobby Lobby supporters call the government's argument absurd.

"This is not a case over whether corporations can pray," said Kyle Duncan on a conference call. Duncan is general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the chain store.

No for-profit corporation has come out in support of Hobby Lobby, nor has the U.S. Chamber or the National Federation of Business. Neither the chamber nor NFIB has been shy about lending their support to businesses in cases where the outcome is beneficial to the business community.

It comes down to these questions: Is Hobby Lobby a person under the law, and if so, does the company have the right to impose its religious beliefs on its employees? Are the rights of a corporation more important than those of 13,000 people? If the justices rule for Hobby Lobby, what are the future repercussions?

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