Bible publisher wins third injunction against HHS contraception mandate

posted at 2:01 pm on November 18, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Opponents of the HHS contraception mandate got good news late on Friday — another plaintiff won a preliminary injunction against its enforcement on Friday in federal court.  The Obama administration had attempted to argue that Tyndale House Publishers didn’t meet its standards to claim a religious exemption, but according to LifeNews’ report, that argument didn’t impress a federal judge — even though Tyndale has no explicit connection to a church:

In its opinion accompanying a preliminary injunction order in Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius, the court wrote that “the beliefs of Tyndale and its owners are indistinguishable…. Christian principles, prayer, and activities are pervasive at Tyndale, and the company’s ownership structure is designed to ensure that it never strays from its faith-oriented mission.

The opinion continued: “The Court has no reason to doubt, moreover, that Tyndale’s religious objection to providing insurance coverage for certain contraceptives reflects the beliefs of Tyndale’s owners. Nor is there any dispute that Tyndale’s primary owner, the Foundation, can ‘exercise religion’ in its own right, given that it is a non-profit religious organization; indeed, the case law is replete with examples of such organizations asserting cognizable free exercise and RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] challenges.”

Tyndale is subject to the mandate because Obama administration rules say for-profit corporations are categorically non-religious, even though Tyndale House is strictly a publisher of Bibles and other Christian materials and is primarily owned by the non-profit Tyndale House Foundation. The foundation provides grants to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of people around the world.

On July 27, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys obtained the first-ever court order against the Obama administration’s mandate on behalf of Colorado’s Hercules Industries and the Catholic family that owns it.

Interestingly, none of the three injunctions imposed by federal courts involve organizations specifically related to churches, such as Catholic hospitals or Lutheran schools.  These cases all involve organizations without specific affiliations that have argued that the mandate infringes on the personal religious expression of the owners, not of a religious organization.  This strongly suggests that the courts will take an even dimmer view of a federal agency forcing Catholic, Lutheran, evangelical, or other faith-based organizations to provide or facilitate access to products and services that expressly violate their own doctrines.

Politically speaking, this will be an embarrassing conclusion to the mandate for the Obama administration if these injunctions turn out to be the norm.  Two other lawsuits against the mandate have been dismissed, but only because HHS told the court that the language of the mandate may change significantly in the near future as the regulations or ObamaCare get written.  If the federal courts continue to block enforcement of the contraception mandate on the basis of personal religious expression, the Obama administration might end up having to explain why its best and brightest minds either couldn’t comprehend the First Amendment, or thought they could succeed in an end-run that would effectively neuter it without the courts noticing.  That would be the second major rebuke to this administration on religious liberty grounds, after its 9-0 Supreme Court defeat that reinstated the ministerial exception to hiring laws at church-based organizations.

In the meantime, these injunctions mean that employees of these organizations are free to buy their own contraception, just as they buy their own food, clothes, cell phones, and over-the-counter medication, and that businesses that wish to provide no-cost birth control are free to do so as well.  That sounds a lot like liberty to me, and for the moment at least, federal courts agree.

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