DENVER (CNS) — A Colorado firm owned by a Catholic family won a temporary injunction July 27 against enforcement of the Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate.
Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado said the HHS requirement that employers provide contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilizations free of charge to their employees, even if they have objections based on their religious beliefs, has potential for violating the family's religious freedom.
He said the government's arguments in favor of the contraceptive mandate “are countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion.”
But Kane emphasized that his ruling only applied to the case brought by five members of the Newland family and the company they own, Hercules Industries, a manufacturer of heating and air-conditioning equipment that has 265 full-time employees in Colorado.
“The government's arguments are largely premised upon a fear that granting an exemption to plaintiffs will necessarily require granting similar injunction to all other for-profit, secular corporations voicing religious objections to the preventive care coverage mandate,” the judge wrote. “This injunction is, however, premised upon the alleged substantial burden on plaintiffs' free exercise of religion — not to any alleged burden on any other party's free exercise of religion.
“It does not enjoin enforcement of the preventive care coverage mandate against any other party,” he added.
The ruling marked the first positive outcome in the nearly two dozen lawsuits brought by Catholic dioceses, religious organizations and employers against the HHS contraceptive mandate, which takes effect Aug. 1 for health insurance plans that are not grandfathered.
Federal judges in the District of Columbia and Lincoln, Neb., have dismissed similar suits filed by Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina and the attorneys general of seven states, respectively, saying that the plaintiffs had not proven that they would be harmed by the mandate.
The Obama administration granted a one-year “temporary enforcement safe harbor” to religious organizations that do not qualify for a religious exemption under the administration's four-pronged test. The test requires exempt organizations to serve and hire only members of their own faith, among other things.
“We never imagined the federal government would order our family business to provide insurance for drugs we object to covering,” said Andrew Newland, vice president of Hercules Industries, at a news conference shortly before the injunction was granted.
“The whole premise that family businesses are prevented from bringing morals and principles into business is such a dangerous slope to start going down,” he added. “The question becomes, what ethical and moral principles do you use to run your business? We'll end up with businesses operating with no ethical or moral principles at all.”
Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, said she was “disappointed with the court's decision to preliminarily enjoin application of part of the women's preventive services policy to this particular for-profit company in Colorado.”
“We are confident that as this case moves through the courts, the policy that most health insurance plans cover contraception will be upheld,” she added in a statement July 31. “Preventive services are critical to women's health and the administration is committed to ensuring women have access to the health care they need regardless of where they work. Health decisions should be between women and their doctors, not their employers.”
The Newlands are being represented in the case by the Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund.
“Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith. For the time being, Hercules Industries will be able to do just that,” said Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the alliance.
“The cost of freedom for this family could be millions of dollars per year in fines that will cripple their business if the Obama administration ultimately has its way,” Bowman added. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure that Washington bureaucrats cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Americans don't want politicians and bureaucrats deciding what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how that faith may be lived out.”