A federal court ruled on Friday in favor of Tyndale House Publishers in a lawsuit against the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage mandate.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton granted a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the mandate – which requires employers to cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs in their employees' health insurance plans – against the Christian publishing company.
"Although there is arguably a public interest in the uniform application of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and the contraceptive coverage mandate there is undoubtedly also a public interest in ensuring that the rights secured under the First Amendment and, by extension, the RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act), are protected," the judge wrote in his opinion. "Indeed, First Amendment rights are among the most precious rights guaranteed under the Constitution."
Tyndale responded, "We are rejoicing & thanking God today for the judge's decision to grant us the preliminary injunction in our case against the abortion pill mandate."
Tyndale, which claims to be the world's largest privately held Christian publisher of books, Bibles, and digital media, filed the lawsuit challenging the Health and Human Services mandate in October, arguing that it violates their religious beliefs. The company's specific objection is to providing abortifacients such as Plan B, which "can cause the demise of an already conceived/fertilized human embryo."
The mandate includes an exemption for certain religious employers but the definition of religious employers was written so narrowly that many organizations, such as hospitals, colleges and businesses, do not qualify.
Judge Walton determined that the beliefs of Tyndale and its owners are indistinguishable.
"Christian principles, prayer, and activities are pervasive at Tyndale, and the company's ownership structure is designed to ensure that it never strays from its faith-oriented mission.
"The Court has no reason to doubt, moreover, that Tyndale's religious objection to providing insurance coverage for certain contraceptives reflects the beliefs of Tyndale's owners. Nor is there any dispute that Tyndale's primary owner, the Foundation, can 'exercise religion' in its own right, given that it is a non-profit religious organization; indeed, the case law is replete with examples of such organizations asserting cognizable free exercise and RFRA challenges."
The contraceptive coverage mandate became effective on Oct. 1, prompting Tyndale to file suit or otherwise face heavy fines and penalties for noncompliance.
With that, the judge ruled that the mandate "substantially burdens" Tyndale's religious exercise.
"The contraceptive coverage mandate ... places the plaintiffs in the untenable position of choosing either to violate their religious beliefs by providing coverage of the contraceptives at issue or to subject their business to the continual risk of the imposition of enormous penalties for its noncompliance. Such a threat to the very continued existence of the plaintiffs' business necessarily places substantial pressure on the plaintiffs to violate their beliefs."
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Tyndale in the case. ADF's Matt Bowman said the court did "the right thing" in halting the mandate while the lawsuit moves forward. ADF is also defending more than half a dozen other organizations in separate challenges against the contraceptive mandate.