(Photo: Reuters: Joshua Roberts)
A U.S. district judge in Michigan ruled against a key provision of Obamacare on Wednesday by stating that a business run by a Catholic family does not have to include contraception in its health coverage for employees.
District Judge Robert Cleland temporary blocked the government from enforcing the HHS Mandate on the religious owners of Weingartz Supply Company, which sells outdoor power equipment and employs approximately 170 people, Reuters reported. The ruling comes as a relief to the family, headed by Daniel Weingartz, who have said that enforcing the mandate would conflict with their Roman Catholic values, which are opposed to all forms of contraceptives and birth control.
"The harm in delaying the implementation of a statute that may later be deemed constitutional must yield to the risk presented here of substantially infringing the sincere exercise of religious beliefs," Cleland explained in his 29-page opinion.
It is only the second time that a U.S. judge has ruled against the Affordable Care Act, as it is also known. Back in July, Judge John Kane in Denver also temporarily blocked the government from enforcing the requirement on the Roman Catholic owners of Hercules Industries Inc, which provide heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.
Many Christian leaders and a number of Republican lawmakers have been strictly opposed to Obamacare, in particular the HHS mandate, which requires all employers, regardless of their religious values, to offer insurance that provides contraceptives and abortifacients. President Barack Obama has ensured that there will be some exceptions to those requirements, but some Christians have said that those exceptions do not go far enough, and have staged nationwide rallies for religious freedom in protest of the mandate.
Health and Human Services lawyers, opposing the decision in favor of Weingartz, have said that granting such exceptions for small business owners was a bad idea, because it would interfere with the government's ability to enforce the law on a broader scale. They say that the point of the law is not to deny people their religious freedom, but to ensure gender equality by providing women access to supplies that they request.
"Preventive services are critical to women's health and the administration is committed to ensuring women have access to the health care they need regardless of where they work," an unnamed government official said in a statement.
The Thomas More Law Center, a faith-based law organization that has been vocal against Obamacare and that filed the charge on behalf of Weingartz, praised Judge Cleland's decision, calling it "not only a victory for our clients, but for religious freedom."
A host of other Catholic and Protestant institutions have also filed lawsuits against the HHS mandate, including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of New York.