June 28, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm
OKLAHOMA CITY - Hobby Lobby and a sister company will not be subject to $1.3 million in daily fines for failing to provide access to certain forms of birth control through its employees' health care plans, a judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton set a hearing for July 19 to address claims by the owners of Hobby Lobby and the Mardel Christian bookstore chains that their religious beliefs are so deeply rooted that providing every form of birth control would violate their conscience. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said Thursday the companies were likely to prevail.
Until the hearing, the government cannot impose fines against Hobby Lobby or Mardel for failing to comply with all of the federal Affordable Care Act. The companies oppose birth-control methods that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, such as an intrauterine device or the morning-after pill.
"The opinion makes it very clear what is a valid religious belief and what is not," said Emily Hardman, spokeswoman for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group is representing the companies and their owners, the Green family.
Heaton asked the government and the companies to seek some sort of solution before July 19, given that the 10th Circuit has already cleared the way for the companies to challenge the law on religious grounds. Hardman said Thursday's ruling, while not binding beyond the states in the 10th Circuit, could benefit others, such as Catholic hospitals, that oppose all forms of birth control.
"We got a fantastic opinion from the 10th Circuit, which will impact all the cases," she said.
The companies had faced fines totaling $1.3 million daily beginning Monday. The appeals court on Thursday suggested the companies shouldn't have to pay the fines effective Monday, but there were unresolved questions. Heaton resolved those Friday in the companies' favor: that they would suffer consequences and that an injunction was in the public interest.