Judge Halts Enforcement of Birth Control Mandate on Catholic Owned Company

A federal court ruled Friday that the Health and Human Services (HHS) birth control mandate will not go into effect for Hercules Industries while it waits for resolution of a lawsuit over the mandate.

Hercules Industries sued HHS, in the case of Newland v. Sebelius, arguing that the mandate, which requires the company to cover contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs in its employees' health insurance plans, violates their religious freedom. Hercules Industries is owned by a Catholic family, the Newlands, and their religion opposes the use of those services.

Though there is three months before the company would be required to include the new coverage in its insurance policies, Judge John Kane wrote that the company would "suffer imminent irreparable harm" due to the "extensive planning involved in preparing and providing its employee insurance plan" and the uncertainty involved as their case is pending.

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The administration argued that the company should not be granted an injunction because it would undermine the government's goal of improving women's health. Kane did not buy that argument, noting that the government has already provided exemptions for others.

The administration also argued that religious liberty does not apply to companies: If a religious sect chooses to enter into commerce, they must accept whatever legal requirements are placed upon commercial activity. Plus, the plaintiffs argued, "a secular entity by definition does not practice religion."

Kane, though, noted the importance of upholding religious freedom. The government's interests "are countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion."

"Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith. For the time being, Hercules Industries will be able to do just that," said Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Newlands.

"The cost of freedom for this family could be millions of dollars per year in fines that will cripple their business if the Obama administration ultimately has its way. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that Washington bureaucrats cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. 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 ruling is the first among many lawsuits against the birth control mandate, but it only applies to Hercules Industries. The mandate officially becomes active on August 1, but the actual date it will go into effect will vary depending on when a company's insurance must be renewed.

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