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In Hobby Lobby Case, Federal Court Weighs Whether Secular Employers Can Exercise Religious Rights

Jessica Mason Pieklo

National retail craft chain Hobby Lobby wants a federal court to rule that secular businesses have First Amendment religious rights.

Lawyers for the national retail craft store chain Hobby Lobby argued that the federal court in Oklahoma should set aside the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit because it violates the company’s religious exercise freedoms.

The federal government defended the law, arguing that Hobby Lobby is a secular employer and as a secular corporate entity cannot by definition exercise religion. Furthermore, lawyers for the Obama administration argued, to the extent the individual owners of the business are claiming their religious exercise rights are violated by providing insurance coverage to employees for the emergency contraception, those individual owners cannot simply jump in and out of the corporate structure whenever they see fit. If those individuals can’t, for example, be subject to individual liability for claims against Hobby Lobby because the corporate structure stands between the private person and his or her public enterprise, then the same is true for the exercise of religious rights in the commercial world.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton didn’t rule immediate on Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction.

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