Score one for the 1st Amendment and religious freedom. HHS Mandate opponents won their first legal victory Friday when a federal district court judge in Denver handed down a ruling keeping the Department of Health and Human Services from fining business owners who object on religious grounds.
Senior Judge John L. Kane found that requiring employers who have religiously motivated conscience objections to cover sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives in their health plans violates their 1st Amendment rights.
The decision marks the first time that a federal court has ruled on the mandate’s constitutionality since it was first announced in August 2011. It is set to take effect for secular employers on August 1 of this year, while religiously affiliated employers will have until August 2013 to comply.
The judge’s decision places a temporary injunction against HHS from acting against the plaintiffs until it can go to trial, but an attorney with familiarity with the case tells Red Alert Politics that the judge’s decision signals a strong likelihood that the plaintiffs have a strong case against the Obama administration.
The Obama administration’s argument that the mandate is necessary because it furthers the goal of improving women’s health was outweighed by “the public interest in the free exercise of religion,” according to Kane.
Department of Justice attorneys also argued that employers such as the plaintiff, Hercules Industries, are secular and are not covered by the 1st Amendment’s free exercise clause.
“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, a legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom for Faith for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs. “The cost of freedom for this family could be millions of dollars per year in fines that will cripple their business if the Obama administration ultimately has its way.
“This lawsuit seeks to ensure that Washington bureaucrats cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Americans don’t want politicians and bureaucrats deciding what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how that faith may be lived out.”
Over 40 Catholic and Protestant religious institutions including the University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College and Catholic University have also filed lawsuits challenging the rule’s extension to cover religiously affiliated institutions such as schools and hospitals.