Byron White Courthouse, writRHET
June 28, 2013
By David Lee
DENVER (CN) – Christian-owned retailers may deserve an injunction from a provision of health care reform that requires them to cover contraception for their employees, the 10th Circuit ruled.
Though a federal judge in Oklahoma City had refused such relief to arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby and Christian-themed retailer Mardel, the Denver-based federal appeals court reversed in a divided en banc decision Thursday.
Finding that Hobby Lobby and Mardel have standing to sue over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the majority ordered the lower court to address the two remaining preliminary injunction factors and then assess whether to grant such relief.
Both retailers belong to the Green family, who joined in the September 2012 lawsuit against the Obama administration under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and free exercise clause of the First Amendment. They said the mandate forces them to violate their religious faith, as they believe they would be forced to fund abortion-causing drugs, including the morning-after pill.
The Greens argued that religiously motivated business owners, such as themselves, would be forced to violate their faith under threat of $1.3 million in fines per day. The fines would have started accruing on July 1.
“The Green family believes they are obligated to run their businesses in accordance with their faith,” the complaint stated. “Commitment to Jesus Christ and to Biblical principals is what gives their business endeavors meaning and purpose.”
President Barack Obama’s health care mandate “runs roughshod” over those beliefs, the Greens claims.
Write for the 10th Circuit’s five-member majority, Judge Timothy Tymkovich said “sincerely religious persons” could find a connection between the exercise of religion and the pursuit of profit.
“We see no reason why one must orient one’s business toward a religious community to preserve Free Exercise protections,” the 67-page opinion states. “A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”
The Greens may be able to prove that the mandate creates a burden on them and is not just another form of compensation for employees.
“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable,” the opinion states. “It is not the employees’ health care decisions that burden the corporations’ religious beliefs, but the government’s demand that Hobby Lobby and Mardel enable access to contraceptives that Hobby Lobby and Mardel deem morally problematic.”
In a concurring opinion, Judge Harris Hartz said the civil liberties of an organization are distinct from those of a particular member.
“No one suggests that organizations, in contrast to their members, have souls,” Hartz wrote. “But it does not follow that people must sacrifice their souls to engage in group activities through an organization. Working with others through an organization can often be advantageous in many respects. Of course, one who acts through a group loses a measure of personal autonomy and privacy.”
Concurring in part and dissenting in part, Judge Scott Matheson agreed with the lower court that the corporate plaintiffs failed to show how the RFRA applied to them.
“Their briefs lack adequate supporting precedent, and the record lacks evidence of how Hobby Lobby and Mardel hold and exercise religious beliefs in conflict with the Regulation,” Matheson wrote. “Also, I am thus far unconvinced that for-profit, secular corporations can so easily seize upon the religious beliefs of their owners to demonstrate a corporate religious conviction. The structural barriers of corporate law give me pause about whether the plaintiffs can have their corporate veil and pierce it too.”
Matheson declined to say once and for all whether the RFRA or free establishment clause protects a for-profit business, particularly at this “early stage” of the suit.
Disagreeing with the court’s ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union said businesses like Hobby Lobby “cannot use religion to discriminate by denying women coverage for contraception.”
“Religious liberty is a fundamental freedom,” ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling said in a statement. “We are all entitled to our religious beliefs but not to impose those beliefs on others.”
Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green found the court’s ruling encouraging.
“My family and I believe very strongly in our conviction that life begins at conception, and the emergency contraceptives that we would be forced to provide in our employee health plan under this mandate are contrary to that conviction,” Green said in a statement. “We believe that business owners should not have to be forced to choose between following their faith and following the law.”
Sixty other suits opposing the contraception mandate have been filed nationwide, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group says it represents several of the plaintiffs, including 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.
From Courthouse News.