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A religous freedom rally in Philadelphia in March
Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon
A religous freedom rally in Philadelphia in March

Temporary repeal

Religion | Contraceptive mandate challengers get first circuit court-level victory

The first ruling from a circuit court on the healthcare law’s contraceptive mandate went against the Obama administration on Wednesday. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction against the mandate on behalf of O’Brien Industrial Holdings, a Catholic-run mining company in St. Louis. On its website the business says its mission is “to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord.” The Catholic owner, Frank O’Brien, objected to covering contraceptives for his 87 employees.

A federal judge dismissed O’Brien’s lawsuit in October, saying that because the owner was only indirectly paying for contraceptives, the mandate was not a burden on his religious freedom. But now the Catholic company is exempt from the mandate while the circuit court considers the merits of its case.

Courts typically issue a temporary injunction when the judges believe the challenge has some likelihood of success. At the District Court level, judges explained their injunctions against the mandate over many pages, but the 8th Circuit simply issued a two-sentence order saying that the injunction was granted. One judge on the three-judge panel dissented. 

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Four courts have now granted temporary injunctions against the mandate on behalf of religious business owners. In July, a U.S. District Court in Colorado ordered a preliminary injunction against the mandate for Hercules Industries, a Catholic-owned business. At the end of October, a U.S. District Court in Michigan ordered a preliminary injunction against the mandate for Weingartz Supply Company, another Catholic-owned business. And two weeks ago, a U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction to Tyndale House Publishers, a for-profit company that publishes Christian material (see “Tyndale House wins mandate court battle,” by Mickey McLean, Nov. 17).

Religious colleges and nonprofit organizations have been less successful, as courts say they can’t consider such lawsuits until the mandate for religious organizations is in effect. Just last week a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from a group of Catholic nonprofit groups in Tennessee on the grounds that they aren’t under the mandate yet. And on Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a suit filed by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh on the same grounds. But the mandate already applies to for-profit employers, religious or not, with more than 50 employees.

One federal judge did reject a request for a temporary injunction on behalf of evangelical-owned Hobby Lobby (see “Not religious enough,” Nov. 20). The craft retailer has filed a request for an emergency injunction with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and hopes to hear an answer soon because it will begin facing fines of up to $1.3 million a day for not providing coverage for abortifacients to its 13,500 employees. 

Appellate courts dealing with these religious business owners’ cases are likely to issue a number of decisions before year’s end, because many businesses will start facing fines over the contraceptive mandate at the beginning of 2013 when their health insurance policies renew.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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