A federal appeals court in Denver has ruled against the Obamacare abortion mandate that forces religious business owners to violate their beliefs by paying for abortifacients.
The ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the case returned to the district court level for swift resolution of the request by the owners of Hobby Lobby for an injunction until the dispute fully is resolved.
The district court previously refused to allow the injunction, and even Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the company owners to start paying for abortifacients for their employees, in direct violation of their faith.
However, the 10th Circuit took the case with the unusual step that the full court would hear the arguments rather than a three-judge panel.
In their decision, the court said Hobby Lobby has “established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm.”
The case is just one of more than five dozen pending in U.S. courts now challenging Obama’s demand that employers pay for abortifacients for their employee regardless of their religious faith and beliefs.
A five-judge majority on the court said the mandate creates a substantial burden, because if the owners do not comply with Obama’s demands, based on their religious beliefs, they would be subjected to millions of dollars in fines annually.
The judges also said the government did not satisfy the requirement to show that any burden on the religious exercise of the plaintiffs was overridden by some “compelling” government interest or that it was imposed in the least intrusive way possible.
The court pointedly noted that Obama’s administration already has exempted “tens of millions of people” from the same mandate, so to do so for Hobby Lobby hardly would create an impact.
The American Center for Law and Justice was one of the dozens of organizations that filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the dispute.
“We are pleased with the outcome of this case, especially because the 10th Circuit majority tracks the arguments we presented,” the group said. ” … These are the same arguments we have presented in the other mandate cases in which we are involved.”
The Green family, owners of the chain of hundreds of stores in 40 states, said, through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, they are optimistic.
“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,” said David Green, founder. “We believe that business owners should not have to be forced to choose between following their faith and following the law.”
Hobby Lobby is the largest business so far to file a lawsuit against the Health and Human Services mandate under Obamacare. But it is just one of many plaintiffs who make up more than 60 lawsuits launched already.
Other plaintiffs include Colorado Christian University, Ave Maria University and Wheaton College of Illinois.
“We hold that Hobby Lobby and Mardel [a related company] are entitled to bring claims under [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act], have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm.”
The 165-page opinion said Hobby Lobby has standing to sue, and the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply. The opinion also said the majority holds that the district court erred in finding that Hobby Lobby had not demonstrated a likelihood of success.
The judges noted that the company owners established their work on Christian principles and continue to run them that way, refusing to open on Sundays or engage in business activities that promote alcohol use.
The company also buys newspaper ads inviting people to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior.”
The court noted that the law allows exemptions to Obamacare for religious employers, but religious for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby were deliberately targeted for the requirement.
“The plaintiffs assert that because more than 13,000 individuals are insured under the Hobby Lobby plan … [Obamacare fines] would total at least $1.3 million per day, or almost $475 million per year.”
The fines, combined with the fact the government was unable to show it had narrowly tailored the requirement, means the government’s argument must fail, the court said.
“In addition, the Supreme Court has settled that individuals have Free Exercise rights with respect to their for-profit businesses. … In short, individuals may incorporate for religious purposes and keep the Free Exercise rights, and unincorporated individuals may pursue profit while keeping their Free Exercise rights.”
The court said the government has the idea that when individuals incorporate but are not tax-exempt under the IRS code, “Free Exercise rights somehow disappear.”
But the judges said religious expression and religious conduct can be communicated by individuals and for-profit corporations alike.
Several other district judges have ordered that the abortion mandate not be enforced against individual companies until the dispute is resolved, but the government is appealing the decisions.