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Domino's Farms owner Tom Monaghan
Associated Press/Photo by Paul Sancya (file)
Domino's Farms owner Tom Monaghan

Domino effect

Religion | Another judge rules in favor of a religious business owner opposed to the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate

In the ongoing battle between the Obama administration and Protestant and Catholic business owners, another domino has fallen in favor of employers: A U.S. District judge ruled Thursday that the federal government should not force the owner of Domino’s Farms to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacient drugs to his employees.

The ruling marks another win in a growing number of victories for religious business owners. It’s the 13th temporary injunction federal judges across the country have granted to business owners against the contraceptive mandate. Judges have denied injunctions to five companies.

Judge Lawrence Zatkoff granted a preliminary injunction Thursday to Tom Monaghan and his Michigan-based Domino’s Farms Corp. The ruling means Monaghan will not have to comply with the contraceptive mandate while his case continues through the courts.

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(Monaghan, a Catholic, is the founder of Domino’s Pizza, but sold the company in 1998. Domino’s Farms—a management company—is not connected to the pizza delivery chain.)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the contraceptive mandate last year. The rule requires all employers who offer health insurance to cover certain drugs, including birth control pills and so-called “emergency contraception” like the morning-after and week-after pills.

A slew of Catholic and evangelical Protestant organizations and companies have sued HHS, saying the mandate violates their Christian-based, pro-life beliefs.

A narrow federal exception means churches are not subject to the rule, and the Obama administration announced an expanded exception in February that may apply to other non-profit religious organizations like Catholic hospitals, evangelical colleges, and others.

But attorneys say it’s still unclear how far the exemption will reach. (Indeed, the Philadelphia-based Westminster Theological Seminary announced a similar suit against HHS last week.)

One thing is clear: The exemption does not apply to for-profit companies that object to the mandate. For those employers, the mandate applies as soon as their insurance coverage renews. At least 21 companies—both Catholic and Protestant—have sued HHS. The courts have ruled in 18 of those cases, granting injunctions to 13 companies.

Though the injunctions are not final—and the cases must continue through the courts—the rulings so far indicate that most judges see the merits of business owners’ basic argument: forcing them to provide a drug that violates their Christian conscience also violates their free exercise of religion.

In his ruling on the Domino’s Farms case, Judge Zatkoff wrote, “It is in the best interest of the public that Monaghan not be compelled to act in conflict with his religious beliefs.”

Judges have made similar assessments in previous rulings. Judge Richard Dorr granted an injunction last year to the evangelical Protestant owners of American Pulverizer, a St. Louis-based machinery company (see “Here they stand” from the Feb. 9 issue of WORLD Magazine). Owners Paul and Chris Griesedieck argued that as Christians it would be “sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.”

Judge Dorr ruled in their favor, citing a “substantial likelihood” that the owners’ attorney will be able to prove the mandate “substantially burdens Plaintiff’s free exercise of religion.”

The Obama administration has argued that for-profit companies cannot exercise religion, and at least five judges have agreed: Judge Joe Heaton cited that argument last year when he denied an injunction to craft retailer Hobby Lobby (see “Not religious enough,” Nov. 20, 2012).

Hobby Lobby has 13,000 employees and faces fines up to $1.3 million a day if it doesn’t comply with the mandate. Owner David Green—an evangelical Christian—has said he will not comply.

The contraceptive mandate matter will likely head to the U.S. Supreme Court, and attorneys representing Catholic and evangelical Protestant clients are hopeful they can convince the justices that business owners have rights to the free exercise of religion.

They note the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case that found corporations have the right to exercise free speech. Christian business owners and their attorneys hope logic will prevail and that the justices will reason that the same right applies to religious exercise as well.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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