A federal appellate court refused to permit Hobby Lobby stores to sidestep a federal mandate to provide employees with free contraception as part of its health-insurance plan beginning in January.
The arts-and-crafts retail chain and five individuals, including Christian founder and chief executive David Green and his family members, brought the lawsuit, seeking an injunction against the Affordable Care Act's rule that birth-control coverage be included in the insurance plan.
"We conclude they have failed to demonstrate an entitlement to such relief and therefore deny the motion," wrote 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Carlos F. Lucero and David M. Ebel in Oklahoma.
The mandate to offer "abortion-inducing contraceptive drugs and devices" violates free-exercise rights under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the plaintiffs argued.
But a lower court refused to grant an injunction, and the appellate court agreed, saying the plaintiffs' case would be unlikely to succeed on its merits.
Hobby Lobby's lawsuit is joined by Mardel Inc., a chain of Christian bookstores also owned by the Green family.
"Today's shocking decision from the 10th Circuit is an utter rebuke of religious freedom. This is a dereliction of duty of the part of the courts to protect IRS citizens from bureaucratic bullies who care little for the First Amendment," said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with the Catholic Association, one of the groups following the issue.
The 10th Circuit Court's decision stands in contrast to one issued this week by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College.
The D.C. ruling said that the religious schools' lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act could proceed, and that the Obama administration should regularly report on its progress toward creating a new rule to handle exemptions from the contraceptive mandate for the schools.
More than 100 plaintiffs in 42 separate lawsuits are challenging the federal birth-control mandate. Tom Monaghan, the Catholic founder and former owner of Domino's Pizza, recently joined the fray by filing a lawsuit in a Michigan federal district court on behalf of himself and his property management company, Domino's Farms Corp.
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