WASHINGTON (BP) -- A federal court has handed a leading Bible publisher a major victory over the Obama administration's abortion/contraceptive mandate, preventing its enforcement against the publisher and ruling the company is likely to succeed as the case proceeds.
A federal district court Friday (Nov. 16) issued a temporary injunction preventing the administration from requiring Tyndale House Publishers to cover contraceptives that can cause chemical abortions. The drugs often are called "emergency contraceptives" and can act after conception and implantation, and come under brand names such as Plan B and ella.
Obeying the mandate would force Tyndale to violate its religious beliefs, the publisher argued through its attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Judge Reggie B. Walton agreed.
"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," Walton wrote. "... Government action that creates such a Hobson's choice for the plaintiffs amply shows that the contraceptive coverage mandate substantially burdens the plaintiffs' religious exercise."
It is the third ruling this year against the mandate, which was implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services after President Obama signed the 2010 health care law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). The law itself does not include the mandate language, although it does give the federal government the power to decide what should and should not be covered under the law. Churches and religious conventions are exempt from the mandate, but many religious organizations are not.
Walton's ruling currently applies only to Tyndale but could have a much wider impact if Tyndale continues winning in court. Tyndale's new insurance plan year began Oct. 1 and it is self-insured -- meaning it would have been forced to pay for the controversial drugs.
There is "undoubtedly" a "public interest in ensuring that the rights secured under the First Amendment" are protected, Walton ruled. He used most of his 38-page opinion to show how the mandate violates a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Walton was nominated by President George W. Bush.
Matt Bowman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, applauded the judge's ruling.
"Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish," said Bowman, who took part in oral arguments before the judge. "The court has done the right thing in halting the mandate while our lawsuit moves forward. For the government to say that a Bible publisher is not religious is startling. It demonstrates how clearly the Obama administration is willing to disregard the Constitution's protection of religious freedom to achieve certain political purposes."
Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law this summer, it did not address the issues in the Tyndale case. There have been 40 suits filed seeking to overturn the mandate, according to a tally by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Tyndale -- which has 260 full-time employees -- functions as a thoroughly Christian organization, the ADF suit states. For instance:
-- One of its corporate goals is to "honor God."
-- It holds a weekly chapel service for employees.
-- It opens business meetings with prayer.
-- It sends employees on mission projects to support Christian mission organizations, paid for by the company.
-- It contributes 10 percent of its profits each year to Christian organizations.
-- Its trustees must affirm a statement of faith that proclaims, for instance, "there is one God, eternally existent in three persons."
The mandate provides an exemption for churches and church-like bodies provided they are non-profit and meet all four of the following criteria: 1) "The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization"; 2) "The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization"; 3) "The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization"; and 4) The organization is a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, a convention or association of churches, or is an exclusively religious activity of a religious order, under Internal Revenue Code 6033(a)(1) and (a)(3)(A)."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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