by Dominique Ludvigson
Late last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting enforcement of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate against Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., as the lawsuit continues. This is the third such injunction issued against the mandate to date and the second to be obtained by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of its clients.
Judge Reggie Walton observed 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 had no doubt “that Tyndale’s objection to providing the abortion drug coverage reflected the beliefs of its owners.” Accordingly, Judge Walton found that the company could properly assert its owners’ free exercise claims in court.
Judge Walton recognized the substantial burden on Tyndale’s free exercise of religion posed by the threat of enormous fines for non-compliance. The government’s interest in enforcing the mandate against the company and its owners was unlikely to overcome that burden, he noted, particularly considering the numerous exemptions already granted to other employers.
Named for the 16th-century martyr William Tyndale, the publisher of Bibles and Christian books is one of more than 100 plaintiffs challenging the Obama Administration’s narrow view of religious freedom.
The Administration had argued that because the Bible publisher engaged in commercial activities, it could be compelled to provide its employees with drugs and services that violate its owners’ most deeply held religious beliefs. Tyndale and its owners objected to the mandate’s requirement that it provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its self-insured health care plan.
The publisher operates as a for-profit company, but it is primarily owned by a non-profit religious entity and controlled by three trusts whose members share the publisher’s and foundation’s religious beliefs and policies. Nonetheless, because the HHS mandate categorically treats for-profit businesses as non-religious, Tyndale is excluded from the mandate’s narrow religious exemption and is ineligible for a year-long “safe-harbor” that simply delays the religious freedom violations caused by the mandate.
Accepting the Administration’s logic would limit the application of religious freedom to individuals acting within their houses of worship on weekends. It would reduce the free exercise of religion to “freedom of worship,” restricting religious believers’ ability to live out their faiths in their day-to-day lives.
A separate federal district court judge this week denied a similar request by Hobby Lobby to temporarily block enforcement of the mandate’s requirement that the company furnish abortion-inducing drugs to its employees in violation of its owners’ deeply held religious beliefs. As a result, the company faces a daily fine of $1.3 million beginning January 1, 2013, if it stays true to its religious principles and does not comply with the law.
Like Tyndale, Hobby Lobby had no objection to providing contraceptive coverage to its employees, but it did object to the provision of abortion-inducing drug coverage.
By now it should be clear that these cases have little to do with access to birth control. The real issues are religious liberty and the importance of limited government in preserving that quintessentially American birthright. Tyndale, Hobby Lobby, and their respective owners want nothing more than to not be coerced by the government to pay for something they believe is immoral and in violation of their religious convictions.
Regrettably, when government abuses conscience and separate litigants are forced into court to vindicate their religious freedom, the results are sometimes mixed. What better reason to rein in a sprawling regulatory state—here, in the form of Obamacare—that increasingly sees no limits on its power and takes a stingy view of religious freedom, treating faith as something that should be kept separate and private from adherents’ day-to-day lives?
This article first appeared in The Foundry, a Heritage Foundation blog, on November 21, 2012.