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UPDATE: Supreme Court to hear contraceptive care lawsuit involving Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court, taking up a controversial provision of Obamacare, agreed Tuesday to consider whether a company can refuse to provide contraceptive care to female employees on the grounds that doing so would violate its religious freedom.

It’s a question the Supreme Court has never answered: Does a for-profit company have the right to object to a law on religious grounds?

“This case presents, front and center for the justices to decide, a question that’s been open for a long time: Do companies, not just people and churches, have religious freedom?” Tom Goldstein said, a Supreme Court expert and publisher of the SCOTUSblog website.

The challenge comes from Hobby Lobby Stores, an Oklahoma company with more than 500 arts-and-crafts stores and more than 13,000 full-time employees.

The business is run by founder David Green of Oklahoma City and five members of his family.

“We believe wholeheartedly that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has been successful. Therefore we seek to honor Him in all that we do,” Green said.

All Hobby Lobby stores close on Sundays, for example.

To avoid promoting alcohol, the company does not sell shot glasses.

Green family members say they believe that providing insurance coverage for two types of morning-after pills and two kinds of intrauterine devices would make them complicit in practicing abortions.

They filed a lawsuit claiming that fully complying with the contraceptive mandate in the health care law would violate their religious freedom.

“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution,” Green said. “Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”

Failing to follow the law, which covers companies that employ more than 50 people, would cost Hobby Lobby at least $1.3 million a day in fines, or almost $475 million a year, according to company officials.

The Greens “must either violate their faith by covering the mandated contraceptives or pay crippling fines that would destroy their livelihood,” they argued in legal briefs submitted in the case.

In ruling for the company in late June, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver, referred to the Supreme Court’s decision three years ago in a case called Citizens United, which held that corporations have free speech rights.

“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” the appeals court said.

Three other federal appeals courts have reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that for-profit corporations cannot assert a claim of freedom of religion in seeking to avoid complying with laws that apply generally to all companies.

By: Pete Williams for NBC News

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