WASHINGTON - Craft store chain Hobby Lobby petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to grant them an exemption from the Affordable Care Act's birth control coverage mandate.
The owners of the company said the law forces them to cover certain contraceptives that violate their Christian faith or face massive fines.
Demonstrators from both sides of the debate gathered in front of the high court by the hundreds Tuesday as the justices heard what some call the most important religious liberty case in a generation.
Supporters of the mandate said no business should be allowed to keep their workers from getting free contraception.
"What do you want?" "Birth control." "When do you want it?" "Now," demonstrators chanted outside the high court.
But opponents said believers shouldn't lose their religious freedoms just because they own a business.
"My faith - my freedom - my business," pro-life demonstrators chanted.
Hobby Lobby, owned by the Green family, is just one of the Christian-owned businesses that brought the case.
"The choice that the government has forced on us is unfair and not in keeping with the history of our great nation founded on religious freedom," Barbara Green said.
The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Paul Clement, argued that under Obamacare the faith-based businesses face a stark choice:
"For a company like Hobby Lobby is the option to pay a $470 million-per-year fine or pay a $26 million-per-year fine or comply with the government's mandate" Clement said.
But Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said the business owners' beliefs shouldn't trump what Obamacare demands women be given for free.
"What's at stake in this case is whether millions of women and their right to preventive care, including birth control, is trumped by a handful of CEOs who have their own personal opinions about birth control," Richards said.
Dr. Jeanne Conry, with the American Congress for Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agreed.
"Access to contraceptive care can make a world of difference," she said. "It can help improve the health of our nation and Lord knows we need to see that happen."
But Father Frank Pavone, with Priests for Life, warned the pro-life movement has cause to fear should the government win the case.
"What these business owners are objecting to is the destruction of human life by some of these drugs that the government is saying are preventive services that should be provided in all these health insurance plans," he said.
"It's about the destruction of life," he continued. "So, as soon as the government says to a business or to a religious group that you have to allow this, you have to cooperate with this, then that has implications for the entire movement."
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said he was horrified by a sign held by one pro-choice advocate.
"It was a picture of a Hobby Lobby store saying 'This is not a church.' The message was religion only belongs in church. That's what's really going on here," he told CBN News.
"There is a movement within our country to force religion within the four walls of the church and not allow any sort of public expression of our faith," he said. "That's really what's at stake here."
Meanwhile, it could be weeks, possibly months, before the Supreme Court renders a decision.