Today, a federal court granted Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction against the HHS abortion-drug mandate. The injunction prevents the Obama administration from enforcing the mandate against the Christian company, which does not want to be compelled to pay for birth control or drugs that may cause abortions.
This victory comes less than a month after a landmark decision by the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled 5-3 that Hobby Lobby can exercise religion under the First Amendment and is likely to win its case against the mandate. That decision helped the Christian craft store not be force to pay fines while its lawsuit continues.
“The tide has turned against the HHS mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and lead attorney for Hobby Lobby. “This is a major victory for not only Hobby Lobby, but the religious liberty of all for-profit businesses.”
U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton issued a preliminary injunction and stayed the case until Oct. 1 to give the Obama administration time to appeal the decision.
In an opinion read from the bench, the court said, “There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved.”
Duncan says there are now 63 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate. The Becket Fund led the charge against the unconstitutional HHS mandate. The Becket Fund currently represents: Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, Ave Maria University, and Belmont Abbey College.
Before today’s decision, Kristina Arriaga Executive Director of the pro-life legal group The Becket Fund, told LifeNews: “Hobby Lobby is the largest business to challenge the HHS Mandate in court. And the 10th Circuit decision was the result of the rare opportunity to present the case directly to the full court instead of a smaller panel and it represents the first definitive appellate ruling against the mandate,” Arriaga said. “And, while the 10th Circuit’s decision helped spare Hobby Lobby from exposure to tremendous government fines scheduled to begin just days after the court ruled, its opinion is an true victory for the many other religious business owners who find themselves facing the same “Hobson’s choice”– as the Court of Appeals called it – as Hobby Lobby’s Green family; that is, follow the law or follow your conscience.”
Arriaga said the battle today is be an even greater milestone in this fight because, “unless the government has a sudden change of heart – which is unlikely – the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide this case.”
Hobby Lobby could have paid as much as $1.3 million each day in fines for refusing to pay for birth control or abortion-causing drugs under the mandate.
In December, a two-judge panel of the 10th Circuit denied Hobby Lobby’s request to temporarily stop enforcement of the abortion pill mandate. Now, nine 10th Circuit judges will hear Hobby Lobby’s case. Arguments are expected to take place this Spring.
The mandate would force the Christian-owned-and-operated company to provide the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill” in its health insurance plan, or face crippling fines up to $1.3 million per day.
“The Green family is disappointed with this ruling,” said Duncan. “They simply asked for a temporary halt to the mandate while their appeal goes forward, and now they must seek relief from the United States Supreme Court. The Greens will continue to make their case on appeal that this unconstitutional mandate infringes their right to earn a living while remaining true to their faith.”
Previously, the 10th Circuit judges denied the motion calling the religious burden to the Green family “indirect and attenuated.”
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma and U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton issued a ruling rejecting Hobby Lobby’s request to block the mandate. Judge Heaton said that the company doesn’t qualify for an exemption because it is not a church or religious group.
“Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion,” the ruling said.
Heaton wrote that “the court is not unsympathetic” to the company’s desire to not pay for abortion-causing drugs but he said the Obamacare law “results in concerns and issues not previously confronted by companies or their owners.”
The appeals brief reads in part: “[I]n less than six weeks, [the Green family] must either violate their faith by covering abortion-causing drugs, or be exposed to severe penalties—including fines of up to $1.3 million per day, annual penalties of about $26 million and exposure to private suits.”
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“The district court accepted that the Green family engages in a religious exercise by refusing to cover abortion-causing drugs in their self-funded health plan. There was thus no question that the Green family engages in ‘religious exercise,’” it adds. “[T]he Supreme Court has long rejected any distinction between “direct” and “indirect” burdens in evaluating whether regulations infringe religious exercise.”
Duncan said the judge’s decision did not question that the Green family has sincere religious beliefs forbidding them from providing abortion-causing drugs. The court ruled, however, that those beliefs were only “indirectly” burdened by the mandate’s requirement that [Hobby Lobby] provide free coverage for specific, abortion-inducing drugs in [the company’s] self-funded insurance plan.
The mandate has engendered strong opposition from pro-life groups and Catholic and evangelical Christian companies that do not want to be compelled to pay for drugs for employees that may cause abortions.
The most recent polling data from December 2012 shows Americans support a religious exemption to the mandate.