A federal district court judge in Colorado will hear arguments today regarding a motion for preliminary injunction in Newland v. Sebelius. Hercules Industries and the Newland family requested the injunction to halt the Obama Administration’s implementation of its conscience-crushing contraception mandate.
At stake is whether family business owners like the Newlands will remain free to conduct business according to their convictions or be forced by the government to violate their beliefs.
The Newlands’ father founded the company in 1962 and built it into a successful business now run by his family in keeping with their religious beliefs. The company’s mission statement promises to “nurture and maintain the culture of a family owned business in which our employees grow financially, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.” The Newlands have omitted abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization from their employee insurance plan since before the mandate was finalized in February.
Hercules Industries would be required to begin offering the mandated coverage when its self-insured plan renews on November 1. Because Hercules is a private, for-profit business, it is excluded from the mandate’s narrow religious exemption and, like all non-religious employers, is ineligible for a year-long “safe harbor” that simply delays the conscience-crushing effects of the mandate. Its attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom have requested an injunction barring the government’s enforcement of the mandate against the company by August 1, the date by which it would need to begin making changes to its plan to comply with the mandate.
If the requested injunction is granted, it will be the first of its kind. Two separate lawsuits against the mandate were dismissed last week on strictly procedural grounds (though plaintiffs can re-file in a matter of months). The Newland case is different because it goes directly to the merits of the religious freedom questions provoked by the government’s coercive mandate—whether the state will be permitted to exercise its coercive power over the conscience of every American who engages in business.
The Obama Administration has repeatedly pressed a narrow, privatized concept of religion and a cramped reading of religious freedom that attempts to confine this fundamental liberty to the four walls of the home or of the church on Sundays.
For example, it limited its narrow exemption to the mandate solely to organizations that focus their activities on the inculcation of religion, primarily serve and hire coreligionists, and file tax returns as churches or religious orders, thereby excluding a host of organizations that exercise their faith by serving society’s lost and least. In Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Administration took the remarkable position that religious organizations are just like any other private association under our Constitution, regardless of the text of the First Amendment. That position drew a unanimous rebuke from the Supreme Court.
The Hercules case is no exception to the Administration’s disappointing pattern. Here, it has attempted to graft onto the First Amendment a condition that would suspend its application in the business context, forcing business owners to abandon their religious and moral convictions as a condition of participating in commerce. The Administration does not appear to perceive religion as something that people of faith strive to live out daily in every aspect of their lives, however imperfectly.
By consistently adopting the most miserly interpretation of the religious freedom protections guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administration tramples upon this most fundamental American principle and only encourages further litigation.