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Feds place temporary stay on birth control coverage

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SALT LAKE CITY — Monday, the federal government announced it will not force a Minnesota-based business owner to pay for birth control for employees, under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

But it's temporary.

Tuesday this issue goes before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the cases involve two other companies. The Affordable Care Act with its mandate about what companies must cover, including contraceptives, is the latest battle for religious freedom.

The question is: Can corporations or smaller companies opt out of this coverage because of the faith of their founders?

Hobby Lobby, based in Oklahoma City, has 602 stores nationwide and more than 13,000 employees. The founder is an Evangelical Christian.

"It is our desire as owners of this company to do everything we can to strengthen families," Hobby Lobby CEO David Green said.

Conestoga Wood Specialties in Lancaster Co., Pa., owned by a Mennonite family, has seven stores and 2,100 employees.

"This is a family of Christian business owners that are being told the moment they make money they lose their religious freedom rights," said Montse Alvarado, director of operations for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The companies object to paying for their employees' birth control, more specifically, the morning after pill, which the owners link to abortions.

"Women will not have to forego these services because of expensive co-pays or deductibles or because an insurance plan doesn't include contraceptive services," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

This is a family of Christian business owners that are being told the moment they make money they lose their religious freedom rights.

–Montse Alvarado, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Mike Leavitt, former Secretary of Health and Human Services said, "We see, at times, government using the force of government to retaliate 'because of their religious beliefs' view."

Those who express concern about losing religious freedom point to Congress passing the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that states that religious freedom can only be limited by "the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest."

"We are indeed losing some religious freedom and we really have to fight on some of these fronts because there is a movement by government officials to narrow what the definition of religion is," Brian Walsh, executive director of the American Religious Freedom program at the Ethics in Public Policy Center said.

The justices will not rule on this until June, but it could be far-reaching. These companies are two of 47 for-profits and there are 47 non-profit religious schools and charities that have lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act.

For Hobby Lobby the penalty for not complying is $475 million a year and Conestoga faces the penalty of $35 million a year.


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