HHS mandate loses first test in federal court

Don’t get too excited by this court decision, an injunction against the HHS contraception mandate that goes into effect on Wednesday.  We’ve seen other court rulings on ObamaCare go one way, only to be disappointed in the final test at the Supreme Court.  Still, I’d rather win the first round than lose it (via The Anchoress):

The Catholic family that owns a Colorado-based company won a court victory in their battle to stop the Obama administration from requiring them to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, a mandate they say violates their religious beliefs and First Amendment rights.

Hercules Industries, a Denver-based heating ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer that employs nearly 300 full-time workers, got an injunction in federal court which stops enforcement of the controversial ObamaCare mandate. The company’s lawyers said they needed the injunction immediately because if the mandate is enforced, it must begin immediately making changes to its health plan, which renews on Nov. 1.

The case is similar to ones brought by Catholic-based colleges that have refused to provide employee insurance with such coverage, except this time, it is a secular corporation.

In his order, Colorado District Judge John Kane said that the government’s arguments “are countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion.”

The injunction only applies to Hercules Industries, not the mandate as a whole, and it’s only temporary, as William Jacobson points out at Legal Insurrection.  However, the usual paradigms for issuing temporary injunctions are that the judge believes the plaintiffs have a substantial chance of winning the case, and that the regulation or action being halted does significant damage to the plaintiff.  That hints at a favorable ruling at the district court level for Hercules, which is definitely good news, as the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the owners of Hercules, proclaimed in its statement:

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys obtained the first-ever order against the mandate on behalf of Hercules Industries and the Catholic family that owns it. The administration opposed the order, arguing, contrary to the U.S. Constitution, that people of faith forfeit their religious liberty once they engage in business. The mandate could subject the Newlands to millions of dollars in fines per year if they don’t abide by its requirements.

“Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith. For the time being, Hercules Industries will be able to do just that,” said Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The cost of freedom for this family could be millions of dollars per year in fines that will cripple their business if the Obama administration ultimately has its way. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that Washington bureaucrats cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Americans don’t want politicians and bureaucrats deciding what faith is, who the faithful are, and where and how that faith may be lived out.”

In his order, Senior Judge John L. Kane of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado said that the government’s arguments “are countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion. As the Tenth Circuit has noted, ‘there is a strong public interest in the free exercise of religion even where that interest may conflict with [another statutory scheme]….’ Accordingly, the public interest favors entry of an injunction in this case.” Kane explained that the government’s “harm pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon Plaintiffs’ constitutional and statutory rights.”

According to the brief Alliance Defending Freedom filed along with the motion requesting the injunction, “the mandate disregards religious conscience rights that are enshrined in federal statutory and constitutional law.” It also violates the First Amendment “due to its massive inapplicability and its discrimination among religions,” the brief explains.

The Newlands have to win the case and have it upheld at the appellate level before it has force as a precedent.  That seems, though, like a slam-dunk, especially after the very recent Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC that unanimously found a ministerial exception to equal-opportunity laws in religious schools — the very kind of religious organizations that got excluded from the religious exemption by the HHS contraception mandate.  The fractious justices united in limiting the application of regulations dealing with federal mandates in what might be considered second-tier religious organizations, and the HHS mandate appears to occupy a very similar relationship as the EEOC issues in Hosana-Tabor.  Plus, frankly, the HHS mandate seems flat-out offensive on its face to the First Amendment, which seems to be Judge Kane’s take, at least initially.

This is definitely a good start for those who have demanded respect for freedom of religious practice and expression.  But, just as a reminder …