DENVER — A Catholic-owned company’s victory in its fight against a federal mandate to cover drugs and procedures that violate Catholic moral teaching shows the importance of putting God first, one of its co-owners has said.
“Oftentimes, businesses can feel that their direction is dictated by market conditions, to which they must be reactive,” William Newland, a co-owner of Hercules Industries, told CNA March 17.
“This final victory, a permanent injunction protecting us from the abortion pill, contraception and sterilization mandate, has taught our family that we have been right to put God first and be proactive to protect our right to live and work according to our faith. Spiritual treasures come before business tools.”
Hercules Industries is a Colorado-based manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units. Its owners, William Newland, Paul Newland, James Newland and Christine Ketterhagen, all identify as practicing Catholics.
The company and its Catholic owners filed legal challenges against the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that the employee health plans include coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortions. Failure to comply with the mandate would have meant heavy fines, while compliance with the mandate would have meant violating the Catholic faith.
The March 16 permanent injunction from U.S. district Judge John Kane for the District of Colorado said the plaintiffs in the case were protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Under that 1993 law, the government may not place a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion, unless doing so is the “least restrictive means” of furthering a “compelling government interest.”
In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the act protects closely held private companies with objections to the mandated coverage.
The legal group Alliance Defending Freedom helped defend Hercules Industries and its owners, who secured the first legal injunction against the HHS mandate in July 2012.
Newland said that because of the help of Alliance Defending Freedom and the “prayers and support” of many others, his family and others will “remain free to earn a living and contribute to society without fear that the government will punish us for living our faith.”
The legal group’s attorneys commented on the ruling.
“You’re not free if your beliefs are confined to your mind,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot. “What makes America unique is our freedom to peacefully live out our beliefs, and the Constitution protects that freedom.”
Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, agreed.
“Americans should be free to live and work according to their faith, without fear of punishment by the government,” Bowman said. “In this country, citizens have always had the freedom to believe, the freedom to express those beliefs and the freedom to operate their businesses in accord with those beliefs.”
More than 300 plaintiffs have filed religious-freedom lawsuits against the mandate, including more than 100 nonprofit institutions.
On March 9, the Supreme Court nullified a federal court ruling against the University of Notre Dame on the HHS contraception mandate and sent it back for reconsideration by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.