(CNSNews.com) - Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. has become the first non-Catholic private business to file a lawsuit against the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department preventive services mandate that went into effect on August 1.
The Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts supply company, which was founded in 1970 by David Green and is operated by his family, has 514 stores in 41 states and provides jobs for 13,240 full-time employees.
Eric Baxter, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said as a result of the mandate, the Greens would pay $26 million annually to the U.S. government for not providing a health insurance policy to their employees.
“The HHS mandate puts the Green family and Hobby Lobby in the position where they are facing millions of dollars of fines per day unless they violate their religious conscience,” Baxter told CNSNews.com.
The Becket Fund, which is representing the Green family, is the same group representing multiple organizations that have also filed lawsuits to challenge the HHS mandate.
Baxter says the members of the Green family are “committed evangelical Christians,” who operate their businesses in accordance with the tenets of their religious faith.
The HHS mandate requires nearly all health insurance policies in the U.S. to provide free coverage of sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives to all women of “reproductive capacity.”
According to the lawsuit, Hobby Lobby has always operated as a family business and provides health plans to employees through a self-insured policy.
In addition, the Greens pay their employees at least 80 percent above the minimum wage, give a portion of their profits to charity and close their stores on Sundays in accordance with their beliefs, according to the court document.
“Certain nonprofit religious organizations have been exempted from the mandate altogether, and others have been given extra time to comply with it. But the government refuses to give any accommodation whatsoever to families like the Greens, who simply want to run their businesses in accordance with their beliefs,” the lawsuit states.
Should the Greens decide to provide an insurance policy that excludes the services that violate their religious faith, they could be facing fines of up to $1.3 million per day, according to Baxter.
“And the government’s position throughout this has been that if you go into business, if you’re making a profit, you lose your religious freedom, your First Amendment rights. And that’s really outrageous,” he said.
Hobby Lobby will be subject to these fines on January 1, 2013
Baxter added that as the first non-Catholic private business to challenge the mandate, Hobby Lobby demonstrates how this issue is not limited to Catholic organizations.
“This just reinforces that this is not just a Catholic issue,” he told CNSNews.com. “There are many religious organizations -- Christian and non-Christian -- throughout our country that object to abortion. And even if they don’t object to preventive contraception like the Greens, they do object to contributing or paying for drugs that will induce an abortion.
“Not only that but whether you share those religious convictions or not, all people who love liberty should be concerned that the government is encroaching on First Amendment rights in this manner,” he added.
So far, over 43 plaintiffs including the Archdioceses of New York and Washington, DC, as well as the University of Notre Dame, have sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate.
In addition to Hobby Lobby, the Greens also own an education and bookstore business, Mardel Inc., which operates within the Hobby Lobby headquarters and has approximately 372 full-time employees.