Hobby Lobby lawyer starts Missouri advocacy group

A woman walks from a Hobby Lobby Inc., store in Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 12, 2012.

A woman walks from a Hobby Lobby Inc., store in Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 12, 2012. Photo by The Associated Press.

An attorney representing Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby in its challenge of a federal contraception coverage mandate launched a nonprofit group in Missouri on Thursday that will focus on the issues of religious liberty and constitutional rights.

University of Missouri law professor Joshua Hawley is part of the legal team representing Hobby Lobby that is scheduled to argue its case before the U.S. Supreme Court next week. The company sued to overturn a federal mandate that requires most employers to provide health insurance that includes birth control.

Hawley told The Associated Press that his new group, the Missouri Liberty Project, will focus on raising awareness about religious liberty and constitutional rights issues. He filed the registration paperwork Thursday with the Missouri secretary of state’s office.

“These are issues I am very passionate about and want to bring attention to Missourians,” he said. “People are worried about the Constitution and feel like it is being threatened.”

Hobby Lobby is challenging the federal mandate because the CEO says it would violate his religious beliefs to pay for contraception coverage for his employees.

Hawley said he does not expect his group to donate campaign funds to individual candidates. Instead, he said the non-profit will host public awareness events and lectures around the state to educate people on constitutional issues.

He said the group will “give ordinary Missourians a chance to make a difference, to have a voice, and to take part in some of the most important constitutional cases in the country.”

Hobby Lobby is asking the court to decide whether businesses may use religious objections to exempt themselves from the birth control coverage requirement.

Under the health care law, most insurance plans have to cover approved contraceptives as preventive care for women. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions, including charitable organizations, universities and hospitals, are not.

The government came up with a compromise that requires insurers or health plan administrators to provide birth control coverage but allows the religious group to distance itself from that action.

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