The Obama administration today argued in court that the government can make a requirement that violates religious beliefs and that a company cannot reflect the religious faith of its owners.
The administration's statements came in a court filing that asserts the federal government has the authority to order private companies to provide abortifacients for their employees.
A case against the order was brought by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Legatus, the nation's largest organization of top Catholic business leaders, and Weingartz Supply and its owner.
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The Department of Justice attorneys argued the challenge by Weingartz Supply Company and its owners "rests largely on the theory that a self-described secular corporation established to sell outdoor power equipment can claim to exercise religion and thereby avoid the reach of laws designed to regulate commercial activity."
"This cannot be."
The federal attorneys – Stuart F. Delery, Barbara L. McQaude, Sheila M. Lieber, Michelle Bennett and Ethan P. Davis – are arguing in federal court in Michigan against a request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the enforcement of an Obamacare mandate requiring employers to provide such abortifacients through health programs for employees.
The plaintiffs argue that the federal order conflicts with the U.S. Constitution by requiring them to violate their religious faith.
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The Michigan case is just one of dozens nationwide that raise similar issues.
The federal attorneys contend that allowing employers to direct the activities of their entities with a respect for their own religious faith would be unworkable.
"It would also cripple the government's ability to solve national problems through laws of general application," they wrote.
Erin Mersino, the Thomas More Law Center attorney handling the case, said the federal attorneys' arguments essentially suggest that a Christian faith is just fine as long as it's inside a private home or private worship center, but not in society.
The brief contains "a complete and utter disregard" for religious rights, she said.
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The next step, she said, could be for the government to demand that private companies not only pay for abortifacients, but under Obamacare's "counseling" provision to pay for those who would try to convince employees to have abortions – at company expense.
"It's very frightening, facing this," she said. "We just hope the judge makes the right decision."
If such a concept would be upheld by a court, it could have a far-reaching impact, such as on the decision by Chick-fil-A owners to close their stores on Sundays to allow their employees to go to church.
A hearing is scheduled Sept. 28.
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In the brief, the federal attorneys also stated that existing health care programs – those Obama promised citizens could keep if they wished – will mostly be gone by 2013.
"The government estimates that, as a practical matter, a majority of group health plans will lose their grandfather status by 2013," they said.
But on the issue of a company owner's right to decide to run a business in accordance with his or her religious faith, the Obama administration was very clear.
The attorneys dismissed the claims from Legatus, saying that the Obama administration still is making the "rules" for the application of the requirement, so the judge shouldn't make any decision yet.
They said the company is "for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion."
And they said Mr. Weingartz is neither a "group health plan" or a "health insurance issuer," so he has no grounds for making any complaint.
"The Free Exercise Clause does not prohibit a law that is neutral and generally applicable even if the law prescribes conduct that an individual's religion proscribes," the government attorneys wrote. "The regulations do not violate plaintiffs' free speech or free association rights. The regulations compel conduct, not speech. They do not require plaintiffs to say anything; nor do they prohibit plaintiffs from expressing to company employees or the public their views in opposition to the use of contraceptive services."
They said the goals of the government – "improving the health of women and children and equalizing the playing field for women and men" – is so important that even if the regulations are a burden on religious rights, the court should affirm them.
"The government may substantially burden the exercise of religion if it '(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,'" they said.
They explained that whatever the religious beliefs of the owners, the fact that the company is set up as a corporation means the government can order it to do anything the government wants, irrespective of the owner's beliefs.
"This case should begin and end with plaintiffs' admission that Weingartz Supply Company is a secular employer and with the undisputed facts that confirm that admission," they said.
They said the requirement for companies to have their health care plans provide abortifacients has nothing to do with the owner of the company or his religious beliefs.
"By their terms, the regulations apply to group health plans and health insurance issuers. Mr. Weingartz is neither. The regulations do not impose any obligations on individuals."
And they concluded that abortificients are critical to health care in today's world.
"Increased access to contraceptive services is a key part of these predicted health outcomes, as a lack of contraceptive use has proven to have negative health consequences for both women and a developing fetus," the federal attorneys explained.
"The challenged regulations advance the compelling interests of promoting the health of women and newborn children and furthering gender equality by eliminating that cost-sharing," they said.
The Obama administration's interest in requiring companies like Weingartz to have health plans providing free abortifacients "is particularly compelling."
They did not argue that there would be no damage to the company or its owner, but said it simply doesn't matter.
"Any potential harm to plaintiffs resulting from their desire not to provide contraceptive coverage is thus outweighed by the significant harm an injunction would cause to the public," they wrote.
They also accused the plaintiffs of wanting the government to "subsidize private religious practices."
Leaders of a number of religious-advocacy groups have warned 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."