The fiscal cliff isn’t the only abyss that the Obama Administration and Congress have created for individuals and employers. The Obamacare mandate that forces employers to provide and pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization has created a cavernous void for religious liberty that will threaten the existence of many businesses in the new year.
On January 1, religious business owners whose employee health plans renew at the beginning of the year will face the impossible decision to either violate their deeply held beliefs by complying with the mandate or jump over Obamacare’s conscience cliff and face ruinous fines.
Among those employers peering over the Obamacare ledge is Hobby Lobby. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court denied a request to temporarily stop enforcement of the mandate against the family-owned business while its appeal moves forward. The company now faces the possibility of devastating penalties in 2013. It becomes subject to the anti-conscience mandate on New Year’s Day, the day on which its employee health plan renews.
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, Hobby Lobby has grown from one 300-square-foot garage to over 500 stores in 41 states employing more than 22,500 individuals. The Green family, which founded and runs the company, invests in communities through numerous Christian ministries, closes all its locations on Sundays, and seeks to operate in accordance with Christian principles—including offering an employee health care plan that aligns with those values. Under the Obamacare mandate, however, Hobby Lobby will be forced to provide and pay for abortion-inducing drugs—such as the “morning after” and “week after” pills—regardless of their religious or moral objections to doing so.
David Green, who founded the company in 1972 and now serves as its CEO, explains the difficult position placed before his family and his business:
[W]e seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles. The conflict for me is that our family is being forced to choose between following the laws of the country that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and have supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families.
In an attempt to dampen widespread outcry over the mandate’s assault on the religious liberty of employers such as Hobby Lobby, the Obama Administration has promised an “accommodation.”
But to the countless employers teetering on Obamacare’s edge, that inadequate, unworkable, and unfulfilled accommodation looks more like a hole-ridden parachute.
The mandate’s offensively narrow religious exemption doesn’t apply to a large number of religious organizations—such as schools, hospitals, and social service providers—let alone for-profit businesses. And like all for-profit employers, companies like Hobby Lobby are also ineligible for the Obama Administration’s misleadingly titled “temporary enforcement safe harbor.”
Instead, the Green family is left to either violate their beliefs or fall off the Obamacare cliff into a cavern lined with devastatingly high fines. If Hobby Lobby refuses to comply with the mandate at the beginning of the year, the company could see fines of up to $1.3 million per day.
Represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Hobby Lobby and the Green family maintain hope that a court may eventually strike down the mandate. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor emphasized in her opinion Wednesday, Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit over the mandate’s unconstitutional coercion can continue—even though a current injunction against the mandate appears out of reach.
Court action in 42 other cases will likewise continue to try to stop enforcement of the mandate against the more than 110 plaintiffs suing the federal government. The ultimate solution, however, is to repeal Obamacare in its entirety, walking religious liberty back from the steep edge of the Administration’s disregard for faith.