WASHINGTON — Three Mennonite Christians who own a wood manufacturing company in Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate for threatening their right to religious freedom.
“Being told that we must provide a health plan that includes a provision that violates the Christian beliefs of our family and the Christian values that our company was founded on is deeply troubling,” said Anthony Hahn, president and CEO of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation.
“Forcing Americans to surrender long-standing, deeply-held principles in order to own and run a business is not merely troubling but unnecessary and unconstitutional,” he added.
Hahn is challenging a federal regulation that requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Conestoga would be required to comply with the mandate when its insurance plan renews on Jan. 1, 2013.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the mandate by religious employers who argue that it forces them to violate their sincerely held beliefs. The federal government has argued that businesses that are deemed “secular” do not have the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
On Dec. 4, attorneys with Independence Law Center filed a legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Conestoga’s founder Norman Hahn, and his sons Norman Lemar Hahn and Anthony Hahn, who manage the company.
A family business with some 950 full-time employees throughout the U.S., Conestoga is a manufacturer of wood cabinets, doors and other specialty products.
The Hahns have always sought to “operate Conestoga in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs” as Mennonite Christians, the lawsuit says, noting that the company’s mission statement includes a commitment to “the highest ethical, moral, and Christian principles.”
The family believes “that their Mennonite faith prohibits them from separating their religious beliefs from their daily business practice,” the suit stresses.
Given their conviction that “God requires respect for the sanctity of human life,” the Hahns believe “it would be sinful and immoral for them to intentionally participate in, pay for, facilitate, or otherwise support any contraception with an abortifacient effect,” the legal challenge says.
The Hahns currently provide health insurance that does not include drugs such as Plan B and ella, which can kill a newly conceived human embryo. Coverage of these drugs is required under the mandate.
The family is now asking the court for an injunction to block the enforcement of the mandate. Several other for-profit businesses have secured initial injunctions in similar lawsuits while their cases progress through the court system.
The Independence Law Center noted that Mennonites have faced a long history of religious discrimination and persecution, and many of them were attracted by the promise of religious freedom to settle in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.
“People of faith should not be punished for making decisions according to the deepest convictions of that faith,” said attorney Charles W. Proctor III in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“Americans should be free to honor God in the way they see fit whether at work or at home or at church,” added attorney Randall Wenger. “To ask us to do otherwise would show extreme disrespect to our freedom of conscience.”