Barack Obama says he holds "unwavering" support for religious freedom, but a team of attorneys representing a Colorado family says the actions of his Department of Justice reflect exactly the opposite.
The department has filed an appeal to force the Newland family of Denver, which owns Hercules Industries, to violate their beliefs in the operation of their company, according to attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The case centers on the "mandate" in Obamacare, the federal takeover of health care decision-making. The mandate would require the Denver family and others, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception under threat of massive financial penalties.
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A trial judge ordered that the mandate could not be enforced immediately against the family that owns Hercules.
But administration lawyers have filed a notice of appeal, in a document signed by Michelle Bennett, that seeks to have the arguments moved to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith," said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel with ADF. "The Obama administration claims 'unwavering' support for religious freedom, but this appeal demonstrates that the only thing unwavering is the administration's tenacious opposition to that freedom."
"The cost of religious freedom for this family could be millions of dollars per year in fines that would cripple their business and potentially destroy jobs if the administration ultimately has its way," Bowman said. "In filing its appeal today, the administration sent a clear message that it wants to force families to abandon their faith in order to earn a living. That's the opposite of religious freedom."
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ADF attorneys on July 27 obtained the first-ever order against the mandate on behalf of Hercules and the Catholic family that owns it. Obama's attorneys opposed the order issued in Newland v. Sebelius, arguing, contrary to the U.S. Constitution, that "for-profit, secular employers generally do not engage in any exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment."
The Obama attorneys argued that whatever religious faith or beliefs the owners may have would be completely irrelevant to the actions of the company.
"Hercules Industries' desire not to make available a health plan that permits such individuals to exercise their own choice as to contraceptive use must yield to the government's compelling interest in avoiding the adverse and unfair consequences that would be suffered by such individuals."
ADF reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could penalize the family millions of dollars per year if they don't agree to violate their religious faith.
But it was Obama who said his "Christian faith" has guided his presidency, and, "In a changing world my commitment to protecting religious liberty is and always will be unwavering.
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The Colorado House of Representatives recently honored Hercules Industries for its many contributions to the community and its employees after the city and county of Denver backed out of a similar proclamation specifically because of the business's success in court.
ADF attorneys have clients in other cases challenging the mandate, including Indiana's Grace College, California's Biola University, Louisiana College and Pennsylvania's Geneva College and the Seneca Hardwood Co.
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Other legal teams also are in the battle, and it was a case brought by a Missouri company in which the government admitted the mandate is a "burden" on religious rights.
"Indeed, defendant [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius herself has publicly acknowledged that the mandate raises religious concerns," said a court filing from the American Center for Law and Justice.
"In a press release issued on Jan. 20, 2012, announcing the finalization of the mandate and the temporary safe harbor period for nonprofit entities that object to contraceptive services, defendant [HHS Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius opined that the temporary reprieve 'strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services.'
"Subsequently, in a press release issued on July 31, 2012, Sebelius stated that 'the Obama administration will continue to work with all employers to give them the flexibility and resources they need to implement the health care law in a way that protects women's health while making common-sense accommodations for values like religious liberty.'"
The legal brief, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, continued.
"The defendants cannot make a straight-faced argument in this litigation that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious beliefs. Indeed, the defendants have postponed for a year the application of regulations that purportedly advance a compelling governmental interest solely because of the burden the defendants themselves recognize that these regulation impose on the exercise of religion.
"Clearly, nothing but a burden of a 'substantial' nature could justify such a postponement," the brief said.
That case is on behalf of Frank R. O'Brien and O'Brien Industrial Holdings LLC, a company based in St. Louis. O'Brien is chairman of the company that explores, mines and processes raw materials, exporting to 40 nations.
A Michigan case is being pursued by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Weingartz Supply Co. and Legatus, the nation's largest organization of top Catholic business leaders.
In the most recent filing, attorneys for Weingartz said the Obama administration either doesn't care about or doesn't like Catholics so much it is forcing them to choose between their beliefs and the federal law.
"The defendants offer numerous secular and even religious exemptions to the HHS mandate, but fail to offer the same respect to the Catholic beliefs of the plaintiffs – showing that defendants either care so little about those professing Catholic beliefs that they will not be bothered to address their concerns or showing that defendants are patently discriminating against and disrespecting those holding Catholic beliefs," said the brief filed this week in support of a preliminary injunction that would protect the plaintiffs while the case moves through the courts," the filing said.
In the Denver case, WND reported earlier when U.S. District Judge John J. Kane of Colorado granted Hercules owners Andy Newland and other family members the order preventing enforcement.
Newland told WND: "We realized we had a choice nobody should really have to face. That's the choice to do business according to our faith, which we think is really important, or pay onerous crippling fines. And nobody, we believe, should be forced to make that decision."
Other lawsuits have been filed by Wheaton College, Catholic University of America, University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and the Catholic University of America.
And leaders of of a number of religious-advocacy groups are warning of the Obamacare contraception mandate consequences for business owners of faith:
- Larry Cirignano, president of Faithful Catholic Citizens: "Give up your religion or go bankrupt. This is not a mandate; it is an ultimatum. Buy insurance and kill babies or go bankrupt fighting us. Not all of us can afford lawyers to fight this 'mandate.'"
- Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate: "Aug. 1 will be remembered as the day our most cherished liberty was thrown in a government dumpster and hauled away. A day when family owned small businesses were forced to abandon their religious beliefs to provide products and services for free. And if they don't, they will be taxed and fined at a time when job creators are struggling with enough costs and bureaucratic red-tape at every level of government just to stay in business. While the courts have provided a reprieve for one family business in Colorado, the government will never be able to repair the broken conscience of thousands of others until this mandate is removed."
- Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica: "August 1st is a day that will live in infamy for the First Amendment and the fundamental freedoms and rights we as a people have enjoyed since the founding of our nation. The HHS mandate imposed on the American people is the beginning of the end of freedom as America has known it and loved it. August 1st marks the day when many family owned and operated businesses lose their rights to exercise their faith in their daily lives. The government has told them – either comply with this mandate in violation of your faith and do what we tell you, or you will pay crippling faith fines to the federal government. With the stroke of a pen, the Obama administration has shredded the First Amendment and the Constitution right before our eyes."
- Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute: "The Obama administration's assault on religious liberty is taking root … Failure to comply with the mandate will result in penalties that could cost business millions of dollars. The administration clearly did not reach a much-vaunted 'accommodation' with business owners who strongly oppose the mandate and believe it is a clear violation of their constitutional protection of religious liberty. The HHS mandate forces business owners to choose between following their religious beliefs or obedience to the federal government. The Obama administration clearly believes the government is supreme and that individuals and businesses must bow to its dictates or suffer severe consequences. We know that Obamacare is wrong for America. The HHS anti-conscience mandate is clear evidence of why the law violates the most fundamental principles upon which our country is founded."
- Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition: "Confidence in the system and hope for religious liberty was mildly restored when a federal district judge issued a temporary injunction blocking Barack Obama's health-care mandate from compelling a business to provide insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs. This is certainly a victory, but the fact that it only applies to one company means the federal government is still going to force millions of Americans to choose between having health insurance or their conscience and faith. With an administration intent on suppressing religious liberty, we can expect a historic turnout of voters of faith show up in November."
- Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America: "The only solution that has been provided to the majority of Americans is to stand up and fight for their religious rights by refusing to comply or battling in court. ... We must remember the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, 'All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.' To force religious groups to deny their deeply held convictions is not called balance; it is called tyranny."
- Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity: "Today as a result of this initial implementation of the HHS mandate, the relationship between the separation of church and state is critically changed. Americans can no longer follow their consciences or religious dictates on issues as critical as abortion-inducing drugs. Organizations such as Wheaton College, or businesses such as Weingartz Supply of Ann Arbor, Mich.,will be forced to violate their consciences. On this sad day Americans have no 'choice' in this matter."
- David Stevens, MD and CEO of the Christian Medical Association: "What will stop this administration, with its radical pro-abortion agenda, from further undermining conscience rights and pursuing policies that effectively force out of medicine physicians with life-honoring convictions? Who will keep government panels from effectively denying physicians and patients choice about what are the most effective and appropriate medicines, surgeries and treatments? We call on Congress to turn back this law's assault on our freedoms and restore American values and constitutional principles in health care."
- Paul E. Rondeau, executive director of American Life League: "History tragically teaches us that if our government can abolish one constitutional right, then all constitutional rights are put in jeopardy. This path sets a dangerous and foolish precedent that First Amendments rights such as freedom of speech, association, freedom of the press and the rights to assemble and petition the government may be just as easily curtailed in the future. We call on all citizens to tell their elected representatives that this erosion of rights must not stand."
- Kristin Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America: "Today marks the beginning of the end of religious and conscience rights in America. As an employer, I am forced to make a false choice between providing a vital service to my employees and violating my conscience and values. The abortion-pill mandate is an egregious attack upon my rights, as well as the rights of all people of values and faith in America."