Judge Temporarily Stops Administration from Forcing Christian Family to Act Against Faith

By Terence P. Jeffrey | July 28, 2012 | 11:54am EDT


President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CNSNews.com) - U.S. District Judge John L. Kane issued an injunction Friday that temporarily prohibits the Obama administration from forcing a Christian family in Colorado to act against its faith in the way it operates its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business.

The injunction spares the family from complying with an Obamacare regulation while the judge decides on its merits the lawsuit the family has brought contending the regulation violates their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius finalized the regulation earlier this year. It requires health care plans to provide--without cost-sharing--sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortions.

William, Paul and James Newland and their sister, Christine Ketterhagen, who are Catholics, own Colorado-based Hercules Industries, which the family founded in 1962 and which they have grown to where it now employs 265 people.

James, Andrew, Paul and William Newland of Hercules Industries

The Newlands’ Catholic faith teaches that sterilization, contraception and abortion are intrinsically immoral and that Catholics cannot be involved in them. It also teaches them that they must live all aspects of their lives—including how they run their business—in keeping with Catholic moral teachings. With this understanding the Newlands have not only provided their workers with generous health-care benefits through a self-insurance program that they maintain at Hercules Industries, they also have not covered sterilizations, contraception or abortion through that insurance program.

Last month, the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously adopted a statement declaring that Sebelius’s regulation is an “unjust and illegal mandate” that violates the  “personal civil rights” of individual workers and business owners who are forced to buy insurance plans that cover sterilization, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in violation of Catholic teaching.

In his injunction, Judge Kane explained that the Newland family needed to demonstrate a number of crucial points to win the injunction.

“A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy; accordingly, the right to relief must be clear and unequivocal,” said the judge. “To meet this burden, a party seeking a preliminary injunction must show: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a threat of irreparable harm, which (3) outweighs any harm to the non-moving party, and that (4) the injunction would not adversely affect the public interest.”

The judge determined that because the Obama administration had already exempted or waived so many others from complying with Obamacare at this time that giving the Newland family temporary relief from a regulation that would infringe on their religious freedom would not adversely affect the public interest.

“On balance, the threatened harm to Plaintiffs, impingement of their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, and the concomitant public interest in that right strongly favor the entry of injunctive relief,” the judge said. “Although the less rigorous standard for preliminary injunctions is not applied when ‘a preliminary injunction seeks to stay governmental action taken in the public interest pursuant to a statutory or regulatory scheme,’ the government’s creation of numerous exceptions to the preventive care coverage mandate has undermined this alleged public interest.”

However, the judge clearly left open the possibility that when he decides Newland v. Sebelius on its merits he may decide the administration does have the authority to force a family-owned business to act against the moral and religious beliefs of the family that owns it.

“The questions [raised by the suit] merit more deliberate investigation,” said the judge.

“Even if, upon further examination, Plaintiffs are able to demonstrate a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion, however, the government may justify its application of its preventive care coverage mandate by demonstrating that application of that mandate to Plaintiffs is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest,” he said.

If the regulation stands, Catholic business owners like the Newlands--and business owners of other denominations who share the Newlands’ moral and religious convictions on sterilization, contraception or abortion—will have no escape from government action forcing them to act against their moral and religious beliefs.

Because the Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare and its mandate that all individuals must buy health insurance, the Newlands and their employees must buy health insurance.  If the Newlands dropped their company’s self-insured health care plan, they and their employees would be required to turn elsewhere for insurance and the plans available to them in the Obamacare-governed health-care market would need to comply with the Sebelius regulation.  Thus, the Newlands, and any workers who share their religious and moral beliefs, would be required to violate those beliefs anyway.

Additionally, Obamacare requires businesses like the Newlands’ that have more than 50 full-time employees to provide their employees with health-care coverage that complies with the regulatory schemes promulgated under Obamacare. If a business fail to offer its employees insurance, it must pay a fine of about $2,000 per worker per year. A business like the Newlands that employs 265 people would pay a federal penalty of approximately $530,000 per year for not buying insurance.

If a business like the Newlands were to flout the regulation by continuing to provide their workers and themselves with insurance that does not cover the sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs the Sebelius regulation requires, they would be subject, under Obamacare, to a penalty of about $100 per day per worker. For a business with 265 workers like the Newlands’, that works out to a penalty of about $26,500 per day—or $9,672,500 over 365 days.

Judge Kane stressed that his injunction preventing the Obama administration from enforcing the Sebelius regulation against the Newlands while he decides their suit on its merits, applies only to the Newlands.  Other businesses must comply with the regulation unless it is reversed by Congress or thrown out by a higher court.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic who previously had called the regulation an “attack on religious liberty,” indicated on Thursday that the Republican-majority House may now provide the Obama administration with the funding it needs to implement the regulation after the legislation currently funding the federal government expires on Sept. 30.

“Sometimes resolving these issues can sometimes best be done other than legislative avenues,” said Boehner of the regulation.

The Newlands are being represented in their suit by attorney Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith,” said Bowman. “For the time being, Hercules Industries will be able to do just that.”

“This lawsuit seeks to ensure that Washington bureaucrats cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living,” said Bowman. “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.”

The regulation takes effect on Wednesday.

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