By Joshua Rhett Miller, ,
Published December 23, 2015
The Catholic family that owns a Colorado-based company won a court victory in their battle to stop the Obama administration from requiring them to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, a mandate they say violates their religious beliefs and First Amendment rights.
Hercules Industries, a Denver-based heating ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer that employs nearly 300 full-time workers, got an injunction in federal court which stops enforcement of the controversial ObamaCare mandate. The company's lawyers said they needed the injunction immediately because if the mandate is enforced, it must begin immediately making changes to its health plan, which renews on Nov. 1.
The case is similar to ones brought by Catholic-based colleges that have refused to provide employee insurance with such coverage, except this time, it is a secular corporation.
In his order, Colorado District Judge John Kane said that the government’s arguments “are countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion."
The case still must be aired out in court, but lawyers representing Hercules savored the temporary victory.
“Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith. For the time being, Hercules Industries will be able to do just that,” said Matt Bowman, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the Arizona-based organization representing the Newlands. “The bottom line is that Congress and the Constitution explicitly protect all religious freedom. They don’t exclude family businesses.”
House Speaker John Boehner heralded the court's ruling.
"I join millions of my fellow Americans in welcoming this ruling, which is a major victory in the effort to restore the religious liberty that has been demolished by the Obama administration's actions this year," Boehner said.
The Obama administration had argued in a 76-page response that the Newlands’ challenge “rests largely on the theory” that a for-profit, secular corporation can claim to exercise a religion and avoid laws regulating commercial activity.
“This cannot be,” the motion reads, citing the 1982 case of United States v. Lee, in which the court held that self-employed Amish workers could be exempt from Social Security taxes, but did not extend the exemption to Amish employers. “Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that, ‘[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.”
The 35-page complaint, Newland v. Sebelius, was filed in April in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and U.S. District Judge John Kane is expected to issue an opinion Friday denying or granting the injunction. Defendants named in the lawsuit include Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Department of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
The Newlands argue that the mandate forces them to “violate their deeply held religious beliefs” and unconstitutionally coerces them to violate those Catholic beliefs under threat of fines and penalties, according to court documents.
“The mandate also forces the plaintiffs to fund government-dictated speech that is directly at odds with the religious ethics derived from their deeply held religious beliefs and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church that they strive to embody in their business,” the complaint reads.
Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller could not be reached for comment early Friday.
In a brief responding to the Justice Department’s filing, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys disputed that claim that the First Amendment does not apply to corporations.
“Nothing in the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s decisions, or federal law requires — or even suggests — that families forfeit their religious liberty protection when they try to earn a living, such as by operating a corporate business,” the document reads. The idea that “a corporation has no constitutional right to free exercise of religion” is ‘unsupported,’ the brief stated.
Bowman said the federal government isn’t allowed to tell family businesses that they are “second-class citizens” regarding religious freedom.
“The point is the government should not make believers choose between their faith and earning a living,” Bowman told FoxNews.com. “We’re hopeful in that we do believe America was founded on religious freedom and that religious freedom will ultimately prevail.”
Since the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), an entity that refuses to provide health insurance to employees faces monetary penalties that for Hercules could total in the millions of dollars.Those penalties are approximately $100 per day per employee — no small total for a family-owned and operated business, Bowman said.
“That is not something that any business in this economy could shake their head at, if not completely ruin it,” he said. “I don’t think any business could withstand the coercion the government is imposing on them in practicing their faith.”
Christen Varley, executive director of Conscience Cause, which has watched the case closely, praised the judge's decision.
"Today's decision in Newland vs. Sebelius is a tremendous victory for religious freedom," Varley said. "The radical HHS mandate is an attack on the conscience rights of religious institutions, businesses and organizations who will be forced to pay for services that violate their faith. Today, this Judge sent a message that the first phase of this attack on religious liberty - which targeted family businesses like Hercules Industries -will not stand."