DENVER — Hobby Lobby stores will not have to start paying millions of dollars in fines next week for not complying with the federal birth-control coverage mandate, under a federal appeals court ruling issued Thursday.
The US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver decided that the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain can proceed with its case and will not be subject to fines in the meantime. The court also sent back some issues to an Oklahoma court to work out.
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. had argued businesses — not just religious groups — should be allowed to seek an exemption if the law violates their religious beliefs.
The owners contend the morning- and week-after birth control pills are tantamount to abortion because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices.
More than 30 businesses in several states have challenged the contraception mandate.
The Justice Department has argued that allowing for-profit corporations to exempt themselves from requirements that violate their religious beliefs would be in effect allowing the business to impose its religious beliefs on employees.
The 10th Circuit opted to hear the case before eight active judges, not the typical three-judge panel, indicating the case’s importance.
Hobby Lobby calls itself a ‘‘biblically founded business’’ and is closed on Sundays. Founded in 1972, the company now operates more than 500 stores in 41 states and employs more than 13,000 full-time employees who are eligible for health insurance.