An Oklahoma judge has ruled that Hobby Lobby Stores is not exempt from a Health and Human Services rule requiring private employers to offer workers birth control at no cost as part of their health insurance plans.
“Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a probability of success on their First Amendment claims. Hobby Lobby and Mardel, secular, for-profit corporations, do not have free exercise rights,” Heaton wrote. “The [owners] do have such rights, but are unlikely to prevail as to their constitutional claims because the preventive care coverage regulations they challenge are neutral laws of general applicability which are rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective.”
The legal battle over the contraception rule is certain to continue, with more than 40 such lawsuits pending, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that specializes in religious defense cases and provided counsel to Hobby Lobby. The firm vowed to “immediately” appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
As of now, most of the lawsuits seek injunctions to prevent companies or religiously affiliated institutions from facing fines for failing to comply with the contraception rule. Judges have not yet weighed in fully on the core constitutional questions at issue, but Heaton suggested in his ruling that higher courts may ultimately have the final say on some of those questions.
“The question of whether [Hobby Lobby’s owners] can establish a free exercise constitutional violation by reason of restrictions or requirements imposed on general business corporations they own or control involves largely unchartered waters,” he wrote.