Hobby Lobby Is a Company. Is It a Person, Too?

Photograph by Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo

Hobby Lobby, a chain of some 600 craft stores, was founded in Oklahoma City by David and Barbara Green more than 40 years ago. For much of that time you would’ve had to be a crafter or someone interested in the evangelical Christianity practiced by the Greens, or both, to have known much about the company or its owners. Now Hobby Lobby and the Greens are at the very public center of an ideological debate over the Affordable Care Act and freedom of religion that will be argued before the Supreme Court on March 25.

Hobby Lobby is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover all kinds of birth control in their health insurance plans. “Why as a family, because we’ve incorporated, do I have to give up religious freedoms, which are core to what our nation was founded on?” Steve Green, the son of the founders, said to Bloomberg News.

The Greens say they run Hobby Lobby, which has about 16,000 full-time employees, based on the teachings of the Bible and that their mission is to honor God with their work. Stores are closed on Sundays so employees can attend church. The starting pay is $14 an hour, far above minimum wage. Pastoral counseling is available; some managers begin the day with Bible study and prayer. The company buys newspaper ads at Christmas and Easter inviting people to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior.”

For all that, Hobby Lobby is a for-profit company, and a very profitable one: The Greens are billionaires, and Hobby Lobby is expanding. The company is asking the court to give for-profit corporations the same religious freedoms as individuals, with potentially sweeping rights to opt out of laws they find immoral.

The company provides birth control in its insurance plan, but the Greens object to having to offer four kinds—including the morning after pill—that they believe are tantamount to facilitating abortion. If the company loses and doesn’t comply with the law, it says it could be fined as much as $475 million a year. Hobby Lobby could also decide not to provide insurance at all and face a penalty of as much as $3,000 per employee every year. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in June.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.