Some private companies are claiming the HHS contraception mandate is a denial of their First Amendment rights. In response to dozens of lawsuits brought against the Obama administration the mandate, the Department of Justice has argued two points that have stunned constitutional experts.
A case was brought earlier this month by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) on behalf of Legatus, the nation’s largest organization of Catholic business leaders, and by Weingartz Supply, an outdoor power equipment company. Attorneys for the Obama administration have argued, first, that the government can make a requirement that violates religious beliefs, and, second, that a private company cannot reflect the religious faith of its owners.
The Obama administration’s opposition filing to the motion brought by TMLC states:
Weingartz Supply Company and Mr. Weingartz’s challenge rests largely on the theory that a self-described secular corporation established to sell outdoor power equipment can claim to exercise religion and thereby avoid the reach of laws designed to regulate commercial activity. This cannot be.
… Weingartz Supply Company is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion… It is well established that a corporation and its owner are wholly separate entities, and the Court should not permit Mr. Weingartz to eliminate that legal separation to impose his personal religious beliefs on the corporate entity’s group health plan or its employees. Mr. Weingartz cannot use the corporate form alternatively as a shield and a sword, depending on what suits him in any given circumstance.
From this argument, it appears the Obama administration believes that if you own a private company, you must leave your faith at home before you go to work each day.
The DOJ continues in response to Mr. Weingartz’ claim of a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment:
…the regulations do not violate plaintiffs’ free speech or free association rights. The regulations compel conduct, not speech. They do not require plaintiffs to say anything; nor do they prohibit plaintiffs from expressing to company employees or the public their views in opposition to the use of contraceptive services. And the regulations do not interfere in any way with the composition of the company’s workforce or the association’s membership.
We see here that the Obama administration asserts that a privately-owned company cannot carry out its religious beliefs in its company policies if those beliefs are in disagreement with a requirement of the federal government. However, the federal government may impose its beliefs– that contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs are “healthy” for women- on privately-owned companies. In addition, the Obama administration argues that the federal government may order privately-owned companies to do anything it wishes, even if it has no authority to control the speech of company owners.
In another case brought this past Wednesday, the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby Stores filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration charging that the HHS mandate is forcing the company’s owners “to violate their deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties, and lawsuits.”
Hobby Lobby describes itself as a “biblically founded business” and is closed on Sundays. The company, which is self-insured, operates more than 500 stores in 41 states, and employs more than 13,000 full-time employees who are eligible for health insurance coverage. The company asserts that if it fails to comply with the mandate, it will incur fines of up to $1.3 million per day. According to the HHS mandate, the company must begin complying with the law on January 1, 2013.
“By being required to make a choice between sacrificing our faith or paying millions of dollars in fines, we essentially must choose which poison pill to swallow,” said David Green, CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby Stores. “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”
Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit has been filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington. Hobby Lobby is the largest and only non-Catholic-owned business to file a lawsuit against the HHS mandate. According to Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, “Washington politicians cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs.”
There are currently 28 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, which is a regulation under ObamaCare.