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Judge bars Obamacare contraceptive requirement for a Christian-owned business

The federal judge issued the temporary injunction a day after a US appeals court ruled that the Obamacare requirement would create a religious burden for the Christian business owners.

By Staff writer / June 28, 2013

Customers enter and exit a Hobby Lobby store in Denver in May. A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that Hobby Lobby stores have a good case that the federal health care law violates their religious beliefs in ordering them to provide birth control to employees.

Ed Andrieski/AP/File

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Washington

A federal judge in Oklahoma issued a preliminary injunction Friday blocking the Obama administration from enforcing its contraceptive mandate against the craft chain store Hobby Lobby.

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The action by US District Judge Joe Heaton came after the full Tenth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that forcing Hobby Lobby and its Christian owners to pay for certain kinds of contraceptive methods would substantially burden their religious rights.

The appeals court overturned an earlier ruling by Judge Heaton denying an injunction. The appeals court then sent the issue back to the judge.

Judge Heaton reviewed pleadings and heard oral argument via a telephone conference on Friday before issuing a two-page order.

“The court concludes plaintiffs have made a sufficient showing to warrant the issuance of a temporary restraining order in the circumstances existing here,” the judge wrote.

The health-care law with its contraceptives mandate is set to take effect on Monday, July 1, and would trigger potential multi-million dollar penalties if the company failed to comply.

Hobby Lobby has more than 500 stores and employs 13,000 workers nationwide. The injunction also applies to Mardel, Inc., which runs 35 Christian bookstores and employs 400 workers. Both companies are owned and run by the Green family, who are devout Christians.

The family believes that life begins at conception and that any interference with the implantation of a fertilized egg is intentionally causing the death of a human being.

Of 20 contraceptive methods required under Obamacare, the family objects to four, involving two versions of an IUD and two kinds of the so-called morning after pill.

Government lawyers have argued that the contraceptive mandate is no burden to the corporation’s religious rights or those of the owners because the choice to use a particular contraception method belongs to the employee, not the employer.

Lawyers for Hobby Lobby counter that the employer is being asked to subsidize an activity that violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs. They charge it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The judge scheduled a full hearing on the injunction issue for July 19 in Oklahoma City.

“Hobby Lobby and the Green family faced a terrible choice of violating their faith or paying massive fines starting this Monday morning,” said Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in the case.

“We are delighted that both the Tenth Circuit and the district court have spared them from this unjust burden on their religious freedom,” Mr. Duncan said.

The case is one of 60 lawsuits filed by individuals, companies, and organizations across the country challenging the portion of the president’s health care initiative that requires employers to provide a full range of contraceptive services to their employees.

The judge’s order came hours after the Department of Health and Human Services issued its final rules for contraception coverage, including by certain religious organizations.

In a statement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the health-care law would guarantee millions of women access to preventative health services at no cost.

“Today’s announcement [of final rules] reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work,” Secretary Sebelius said.

Under the administration’s rule, religious employers – primarily houses of worship – are exempt from providing contraception coverage in health plans for their employees.

The final rules also include an accommodation for other nonprofit religious organizations, such as church-affiliated hospitals and religious schools. Under the arrangement, such organizations that object to contraception coverage are to provide notice of their objection to their health insurance company. The insurer will then provide that portion of the coverage to the employee directly.

The final rules do not include an accommodation for for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby.

“Unfortunately the final rule announced today is the same old, same old,” said Eric Rassbach, also of the Becket Fund. “This doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our nonprofit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses.”

He added: “The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.”

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