Court gives Hobby Lobby reprieve from fines for not complying with contraception mandate
In addressing the fines the company faced, the judges noted that Hobby Lobby would be subject to more fines for refusing the contraception mandate — nearly $475 million a year — than if it provided no employee health coverage at all. That action would prompt an annual fine of about $26 million.
The ruling was a disappointment to groups that oppose religious exemptions to federal laws.
"This court has taken a huge step toward handing bosses and company owners a blank check to meddle in the private medical decisions of their workers," Executive Director Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a statement. "This isn't religious freedom; it's the worst kind of religious oppression."
The ruling comes a month after Hobby Lobby was granted a rare hearing before eight circuit court judges. Five of the eight agreed that Hobby Lobby demonstrated a likelihood of success in its claims against the government.
So far, federal courts have granted 21 injunctions against the government in the for-profit cases and denied seven. With the circuit courts split on the question of whether for-profit companies qualify for a religious exemption from the mandate, legal experts agree the issue is likely headed to the Supreme Court.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes up to the Supreme Court and if we see the same kind of analysis as this court," Tuttle said.
Meanwhile, 30 other lawsuits have been filed over the mandate by nonprofit entities, such as religiously affiliated schools and hospitals. Many of those cases have been dismissed since the government has yet to approve a final rule intended to address the nonprofits' concerns before the Aug. 1 deadline for the contraception mandate to take effect.
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to grant broad exemptions from the mandate to those who claim that providing contraception through employee health plans violates their religious beliefs. But there has been no indication the proposals will get a hearing.
Contributing: Associated Press
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