* Retailer says Obamacare rule violates Christian beliefs
* 63 lawsuits challenge birth control coverage requirement
(Adds details from decision, comment)
By Jonathan Stempel
July 19 A federal judge has temporarily exempted
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc from a requirement in the 2010 healthcare
law that it offer workers insurance coverage for birth control,
which the retailer said violated its religious beliefs.
The preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Joe
Heaton in Oklahoma City, where Hobby Lobby is based, covers the
arts and crafts chain and its affiliated Mardel Christian
He put the case on hold until Oct. 1, giving the federal
government time to decide whether to appeal a June 27 decision
by a federal appeals court in Denver to let Hobby Lobby
challenge the mandate on religious grounds.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman had no immediate
comment. The government has said contraception coverage is
needed to promote public health and gender equality.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm
representing Hobby Lobby, said there are 63 lawsuits nationwide
challenging the mandate.
It said Hobby Lobby is the largest company to be excused, at
least temporarily, from having to comply. Hobby Lobby has 556
stores in 45 U.S. states, and has about 13,000 employees.
The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, had argued that
providing coverage to workers for the morning-after pill and
similar contraceptives violated its Christian beliefs.
It also said it could have under Obamacare faced $1.3
million in daily fines by not providing such coverage.
In a written order, Heaton said the size of those penalties,
the "substantial" public policy issues involved, and the amount
of similar litigation justified an injunction for Hobby Lobby.
"There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no
individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them
while these difficult issues are resolved," Heaton said at a
hearing, according to the Becket Fund.
In its June 27 ruling, the Denver appeals court said there
was a good chance that Hobby Lobby would ultimately prevail.
It said Hobby Lobby had "drawn a line at providing coverage
for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it
is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable."
Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, said in an
interview that Heaton's decision "shows that companies can be
protected from the mandate, and continue to exercise their
religious beliefs in the way they run their businesses."
The case is Hobby Lobby Stores Inc et al v. Sebelius et al,
U.S. District Court, Western District of Oklahoma, No. 12-01000.
(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Andrew Hay and Richard Chang)