WASHINGTON — Two federal appeals courts have become the latest to grant preliminary injunctions protecting the religious liberty of for-profit plaintiffs from the demands of the federal contraception mandate.
“Freedom is not the government’s to give and take away when it pleases,” said Alliance Defending Freedom counsel Matt Bowman in response to one of the decisions.
“The court did the right thing in issuing its order, and we are confident that this unconstitutional mandate’s days are numbered,” he continued.
Alliance Defending Freedom is representing numerous plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the controversial contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
More than 130 individuals and organizations have sued over the mandate, arguing that it violates their right to religious freedom.
Currently, 11 of 14 for-profit plaintiffs have been granted injunctions blocking the mandate. Many non-profit plaintiffs have had their suits set aside while the federal government develops a proposal that it claims will protect their religious rights.
On Feb. 1, the 8th Circuit appeals court found that the case brought by medical manufacturer and retailer Annex Medical, Inc., has a “sufficient likelihood of success on the merits,” citing the same court’s November decision granting an injunction to another for-profit business, O’Brien Industrial Holdings.
The owner of Annex Medical is a Catholic, and argued that his religious beliefs “compel him to provide for the physical health” of his employees, but that the contraception mandate has made it impossible for him to purchase a health insurance plan for his employees without “violating his religious beliefs.”
Bowman welcomed the decision, saying, “Americans have the God-given freedom to live and do business according to their faith. Honoring God is not just important within the four walls of a church; it is important every day, in all areas of life, including in our work.”
A similar decision was reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit regarding Grote Industries, an Indiana-based vehicle lighting manufacturer.
The Grote family is also Catholic, and its members run their business “in accordance with the precepts of their faith.” They argued that the mandate violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Obama administration argued that the burden its mandate puts on people of faith is minimal, a claim that the court said “obscure(s) the substance of the religious-liberty violation asserted here.”
The court issued Grote Industries an injunction on Jan. 30 because it believes the company has a “reasonable likelihood of success” on the basis of their argument, and that “they will suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction ... and the balance of harms tips in their favor.”
Of the three judges on the 7th Circuit appeals panel, Ilana Rovner dissented from the majority decision.
Rovner argued that corporations, not their owners, are obliged to provide contraceptive coverage by the mandate. She said that because Grote Industries is not “organized expressly to pursue religious ends,” it has no “religious interests or rights.”
Bowman countered this argument, saying that “forcing employers to surrender their faith in order to earn a living is unprecedented, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”
On Feb. 1, the federal government announced its intention to revise the mandate, clarifying that churches and their affiliated organizations are exempt from its demands.
Religious organizations that are not directly affiliated with a particular church will be given an “accommodation” under which their insurer offers the coverage free of charge. The government claims that providing contraception has no cost for insurers because of unspecified health benefits that lower overall health care costs for women.
The accommodation proposal has been denounced as an “accounting gimmick” by those who do not think that such coverage can really be offered for free. They argue that the objecting employers will ultimately end up paying for the coverage in their premiums.
In addition, critics of the proposal noted that it fails to grant any relief to for-profit companies run by individuals with moral or religious objections to the requirement.
Just days after the announcement, another legal challenge was filed against the mandate.
Plaintiff Stephen Briscoe is an evangelical Christian who opposes abortion-inducing drugs. He owns several small businesses that run nursing homes and facilities that care for seniors.
Briscoe is asking a federal court in Colorado to protect his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion in his business decisions. Because his company does not associate with a particular religion, he is not granted any protection from the demands of the mandate.
“This lawsuit puts a glaring light on the fact that the Obama administration just doesn’t understand what religious freedom really is,” said Michael Norton, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.
“All Americans have a God-given freedom to live and do business according to their faith, and the First Amendment has always protected that,” he stressed.