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July 2, 2014

Hobby Lobby ruling puts family in crosshairs

NORMAN — David Green felt like the black sheep of his family. His five other siblings had followed their preacher father into church work; David went into retail.

But as his business successes mounted, he found his religious calling: using the financial might from his Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain as an engine for evangelism. That mission took the 72-year-old Green all the way to a landmark victory Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court over the birth control coverage rule in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“I don’t think they decided to go into that kind of an area. I think it was forced on them by the government,” said Vinson Synan, a friend of the Greens and a prominent scholar of Pentecostal history at Regent University.

The justices ruled 5-4 that requiring closely held companies such as Hobby Lobby to pay for methods of women’s contraception to which they object violates the corporations’ religious freedom.

Women’s rights groups and their supporters condemned the decision. But the ruling revitalized religious conservatives who felt they were on the losing side of the culture wars.

Before the court case, the Greens were already considered a first family of Pentecostalism because of their largesse and the example they set as Christian business owners. Hobby Lobby, based in Oklahoma City, has about $3 billion in yearly revenues and donates millions of dollars in profits to charity.

Yet the family’s profile began rising far beyond Christian circles around 2008, when Mart Green, David’s son, spent about $70 million of the family fortune to rescue Oral Roberts University.

Last year, the National Bible Association gave its John M. Templeton Biblical Values Award to Steven Green for putting the family and the company “in the crosshairs of one of the most important debates going on in American society” by suing over the contraceptive coverage rule.

“If it weren’t for people like Steve and his family, the government would have gotten away with this,” said Sean Fieler, chairman of the panel that chose award recipients.

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