Court: Hobby Lobby must comply with birth control mandate

A federal judge has denied a challenge to President Obama's birth control coverage mandate from Hobby Lobby, the Christian-run arts-and-crafts chain.

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled Monday that the company must provide insurance coverage for all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including "morning after" and "week after" birth control pills.

Hobby Lobby, one of the largest companies to sue over the mandate, argued that covering the pills would violate the religious beliefs that inform the firm's business practices.

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The suit also involved Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores owned by the same family, the Greens.

In his ruling, Heaton wrote that for-profit companies do not have a "constitutional right to the free exercise of religion."

Representatives for Hobby Lobby said they will appeal the ruling.

"Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement.

More than 20 lawsuits have been filed against the federal birth-control mandate, which came as part of Obama's healthcare law.

The policy requires most employers to cover a range of birth control methods in their health plans without a co-pay.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, and employees of religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic schools can receive birth control directly from their insurers.

Critics of the policy say it erodes the religious freedom of those institutions — as well as of religious employers — by mandating their insurance plans become a vehicle for forms of birth control some consider equivalent to abortion.