The crafting superstore called Hobby Lobby has been involved in a bitter legal battle over compliance with ObamaCare. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton refused the store's request to partially block implementation of the health care law. Hobby Lobby may very well cease to exist in January as a result, putting another 13,000 people onto Barack Obama's endless unemployment lines... or it might stay in business by changing its business model to eliminate enough full-time positions to survive.
At issue is the contraception mandate built into ObamaCare. Hobby Lobby is the largest of several corporations whose owners say the mandate violates their religious beliefs. Also in accordance with those beliefs, Hobby Lobby stores are not open on Sunday.
What's really disturbing about the judge's ruling is that it rather explicitly asserts that Hobby Lobby's owners don't have any religious rights, not when it comes to the operation of their business. ObamaCare's few religious exemptions are granted only to houses of worship and the like. Judge Heaton ruled that since Hobby Lobby and its sister company, Mardel Inc., are not religious institutions, their owners cannot refuse government commands that violate the conscience of the owners. "Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion," said the ruling, although the judge expressed sympathy for their plight, and allowed that he was charting a course through "largely uncharted waters."
In other words, it doesn't matter if the owners are devout, only if the organization is. (And Mardel Inc. doesn't quite make the cut, even though they sell Christian supplies, including Bibles.) That is dangerously contrary to the Constitutional ideal of freedom of religion, which is an inalienable individual right, not a corporate matter. The First Amendment is about protecting religion itself, not just churches. Of course, it is difficult to imagine the reaction of the Founders if ObamaCare's contraception mandate (or most other aspects of that still largely-unwritten law) were explained to them. For that matter, they wouldn't have been crazy about the notion of passing largely unwritten laws in the first place. They would probably ask whatever became of the Supreme Court. I'd hate to be the one who had to explain it to them.
Hobby Lobby plans to appeal Judge Heaton's ruling, so they may yet give the Supreme Court an exciting opportunity to mull over a different Constitution-shredding aspect of ObamaCare. But that's not going to happen before January 1, and on that day, Hobby Lobby will have to begin paying an incredible $1.3 million per day fine if it defies the will of President Obama. That's almost half a billion dollars per year, for company that posted $2.28 billion in revenue in 2011. It's not going to happen.
It would be a pity if this remarkably successful family business, which went from a mom-and-pop shop to a nationwide corporation with over 500 locations, was obliged to close its doors to protect the very heartfelt religious convictions of its owners, who are also renowned philanthropists. But you know the catechism of post-capitalist America: You didn't build that. Someone else made that happen. Someone else can make it un-happen, too.
The good news for those 13,000 Hobby Lobby employees, and the beneficiaries of the company's charity, is that a less expensive alternative would allow them to remain in business. You guessed it: they can pay a penalty of about $25 million per year, drop insurance coverage altogether, and dump everyone into the "public exchanges." The penalty starts out fairly low - which is why it makes sense for many companies that don't have religious concerns to pay it and bail out of the ObamaCare disaster - but it gets much higher over time, so this strategy might only allow Hobby Lobby to remain profitable for a few more years.
Or, perhaps the company could restructure in such a way that full-time jobs are eliminated, staff is trimmed down, and the ObamaCare mandates are avoided. That's probably not something they were looking forward to telling employees about in the Christmas newsletter. The one thing they can't do is run their business according to their own principles. Not unless freedom-loving Americans start winning a few of these landmark court cases.