Rep. Pitts: ‘First Amendment Does Not Restrict Religion to Places of Worship’

By Alissa Tabirian | July 3, 2013 | 11:18 AM EDT

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

( – “The First Amendment does not restrict religion to places of worship. A business owner has the same constitutional rights as clergy,” said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) responding to last week’s appellate court ruling that prevents the Obama administration from fining Hobby Lobby up to $1.3 million per day while it fights the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception  mandate in federal court.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) also welcomed the ruling. “The Court of Appeals properly recognized that being an American means being able to freely choose our faith and live by the dictates of that faith at home, at church, and in the public square,” she said.

“While we celebrate this decision, we know that the fate of Hobby Lobby and other organizations with objections to the Obama administration’s HHS mandate is still uncertain.

“In fact, in just over a month from now, the one-year ‘safe harbor’ for religious charities objecting to provisions of Obamacare will end – putting countless non-profit employers into the same predicament that Hobby Lobby finds itself in today: forced to choose between violating their religious beliefs or paying devastating fines that could put them out of business.”

Black is sponsoring the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would give individuals the freedom not to purchase health insurance “that includes coverage of an abortion or other item or service to which the individual has a moral or religious objection,” and would prohibit the “imposition of a tax, penalty, fee, fine, or other sanction…” in response to an individual’s choice of coverage.

“No American should be forced to protect himself from government attacks on personal religious freedoms," echoed Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) "Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation the Obama administration has created for hundreds of individuals, organizations, and businesses that are trying to avoid being branded as criminals for not caving in to the Obamacare HHS mandate."

Hobby Lobby and sister company Mardel “have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm,” the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said in an opinion released June 27.

The case was sent to back to the lower court in Oklahoma, which ordered HHS to stop any effort “to apply or enforce” the mandate until Hobby Lobby’s motion for a preliminary injunction can be heard on July 19.

The day after the appellate ruling, which Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at The Catholic Association called “the most decisive victory yet against the abortion-pill mandate,” HHS released final regulations that require insurance companies and third-party administrators to cover contraceptive drug payments so that religious non-profit organizations will not be directly responsible for these services.

“The number of religious freedom victories against the mandate continues to mount, sending the clearest signal possible to the Obama administration that no employer, no matter where he or she works, should be forced to choose between violating his or her conscience and paying a fine,” McGuire said.

Hobby Lobby is not the only business challenging the controversial contraception mandate

“There are 61 cases [against the HHS mandate] and over 200 plaintiffs representing hospitals, universities, businesses, schools, and people all speaking with one voice to affirm the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution,” according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby in the case.

“Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don’t want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so. But we will keep suing until the courts make HHS comply with its obligations,” vowed Becket Fund general counsel Eric Rassbach