On Tuesday, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hobby Lobby must comply with the contraception mandate denying the for-profit craft retailer’s request for a preliminary injunction while its legal challenge to the mandate proceeds.
Last month U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled Hobby Lobby must comply with the mandate, despite its belief that providing insurance coverage for emergency contraception violates religious exercise rights. The appeals court agreed, holding the mandate did not appear to substantially burden Hobby Lobby. The appeals court quoted Judge Heaton, ruling:
“The particular burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health-care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion. Such an indirect and attenuated relationship appears unlikely to establish the necessary ‘substantial burden.’”
The appeals court has not yet ruled on the merits of Hobby Lobby’s case, but the language in this order suggests the court is skeptical of claims that the mandate represents any true burden to businesses like Hobby Lobby. “We do not think there is a substantial likelihood that this court will extend the reach of (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to encompass the independent conduct of third parties with whom the plaintiffs have only a commercial relationship,” the court said in its ruling. Further, the court held, “[P]laintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”
The decision is a win for the Obama administration as it battles religious conservatives in over 40 ongoing legal challenges to the contraception mandate and a clear rejection of the idea that private businesses can discriminate in the benefits they provide employees simply in the name of “religious freedom.”