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Thursday, 20 September 2012 08:50

Hobby Lobby’s Billionaire Owner Sues Over Contraception Mandate

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Like Chick-fil-A's president Dan Cathy, whose anti-same-sex marriage remarks set off a mid-summer kerfuffle, another very wealthy conservative Christian – also acting on what he says are his biblically-based principles -- has leaped into the battle over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

David Green, one of the world’s richest men and the founder and chief executive of Hobby Lobby, the privately held arts and crafts supply business, recently filed a lawsuit – along with fellow plaintiffs David Green, Barbara Green, Steve Green, Mart Green and Darsee Lett -- in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City “challenging a mandate in the nation's health care overhaul law that requires employers to provide coverage for the morning-after pill and similar drugs,” the Associated Press recently reported.

The suit argues that the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate would force "religiously-motivated business owners," such as themselves, to "violate their faith under threat of millions of dollars in fines." "The Green family believes they are obligated to run their businesses in accordance with their faith," the complaint states. "Commitment to Jesus Christ and to Biblical principles is what gives their business endeavors meaning and purpose."

According to the lawsuit: “The Green family's religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices....The administrative rule at issue in this case runs roughshod over the Green family's religious beliefs, and the beliefs of millions of other Americans, by forcing them to provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices, as well as related education and counseling.”

As Robin Marty, senior political reporter for RH Reality Check recently pointed out, the Affordable Care Act rule “requires that all insurance plans offer coverage of all FDA-approved methods of contraception without a co pay, including both emergency contraception and sterilization.”

According to Marty, “The lawsuit specifically claims that Plan B, Ella, and IUDs ‘can prevent the implantation of a human embryo in the wall of the uterus, which constitutes an abortion,’ despite scientific studies saying that the medications inhibit ovulation instead, and despite the fact that a pregnancy is not established unless and until an embryo successfully implants in the lining of the uterus.”

Largest business to sue HHS  

Green’s action makes Hobby Lobby -- which has close to 20,000 employees and has more than 500 stores in 41 states -- the first major non-Catholic business to sue to halt the mandate, and “the largest business yet to take action against the rule,” Baptist Press reported. “There now are 28 separate suits against the mandate, although most of them involve religious organizations that will be impacted by the rule,” according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a staunch opponent to the president’s health care reform, and the organization handling Green’s suit.

It could cost Green millions of dollars in fines “if it drops employee insurance altogether -- and additional fines of $1.3 million a day if it chooses to offer insurance that does not include all of the mandated drugs and services,” Legal Newsline reported. As of March 2012, David Green was one of the world’s richest men, with a net worth of $4 billion dollars, placing him at #276 on the Forbes list of billionaires (#88 in the United States), and #81 in the Forbes 400.

Although Hobby Lobby’s health insurance covers preventative contraceptives, Green’s lawsuit reflects the feeling that the mandate is forcing the company’s owners “to violate their deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties and lawsuits."

"These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful," Green said during a conference call with reporters. "... We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate."

"We hope that this lawsuit, on behalf of such a large and prominent evangelical Christian business, will draw attention to the fact that the government is trying to force people of all different faiths to violate their faith," Becket Fund attorney Kyle Duncan said during the conference call. "This is not by any means a Catholic-only issue. Some of the drugs involved in the mandate can cause an early abortion. And many Americans who are not Catholic have a problem with this."

The Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund has been a major opponent of the Affordable Health Care Act, and the mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, and was highly active in the lead-up to the Supreme Court’s decision on health care reform. According to The Village Voice’s Victoria Bekiempis, Becket claims to have been “the first to engage in court action against it.”    

Green and family have donated millions to conservative causes and candidates over the years. In addition, as Forbes magazine pointed out earlier this year, “Green is a big contributor to evangelical education, having given to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and Oral Roberts University.” In fact, it literally saved Oral Roberts University by giving it a $70 donation when ORU was hit by a scandal involving Oral Roberts’ children’s mismanagement of university funds.

Last year “Green announced that he is donating a 170-acre ranch in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., to [Pastor Rick Warren’s] Saddleback Church.”

In a May 2012 interview with Shopping Center Business, Green said that the company gives half its profits to various ministries.

According to Legal Newsline, “Hobby Lobby is asking the federal court to declare that the mandate and its enforcement violate the First and Fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; that it was issued in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act; and issue a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the mandate against the chain and others that object on religious grounds.”