Hobby Lobby Wins Preliminary Injunction Against Contraception Benefit

After hearing arguments Friday, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton issued an order temporarily exempting Hobby Lobby from complying with the contraception benefit in the Affordable Care Act, which requires it to offer insurance coverage for the morning-after pill and similar birth control or face steep fines. The ruling moves the national fight over the constitutionality of the contraception benefit a significant step closer to the Supreme Court, but also shows a deep divide within the federal judiciary over whether or not corporations have constitutional religious rights.

The terse, four-page order is the first to flatly bar the federal government from enforcing any part of the contraceptive benefit in the federal health-care law. Judge Heaton, who earlier had turned down an identical request by Hobby Lobby to delay enforcement (his request was overturned by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals), took the opportunity to jab back at the court of appeals, holding that Hobby Lobby had “newly recognized religious rights” that drove much of the conclusion to block enforcement, despite his earlier order refusing to do so. These “newly recognized religious rights,” Heaton’s order makes clear, stem from the Tenth Circuit’s ruling that business firms can take on the religious views of their owners and then exercise those rights on their own in the way they conduct their business operations.

Judge Heaton made clear that, thanks to the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, he had very little choice other than to grant Hobby Lobby’s request to block the benefit. He cited the fact that Hobby Lobby faced financial penalties that “could conceivably amount to $1.3 million” a day for violating the mandate, but also made a finding that the government had a “not insignificant interest” in providing the two companies’ employees with access to all federally approved contraceptive methods through a health insurance plan. However, even with the government’s significant interest in making contraception widely available and affordable, Judge Heaton held that the threat of financial penalties and the potential violation of religious rights outweighed the government’s “potential harm” should access be unavailable.

In addition to issuing the preliminary injection, the judge also stayed the case until October 1 to give the federal government time to consider an appeal. That means the government now has the option of appealing the order to the Tenth Circuit. But that court already has suggested it would block enforcement in an earlier ruling and had scheduled a hearing in another case challenging the benefit for October as well, meaning that even if the Obama administration doesn’t appeal this specific order, the Tenth Circuit will weigh in on the constitutionality of the benefit regardless.

Besides the Tenth Circuit, four other federal appeals courts have held hearings on the mandate, with another hearing in September. The clear fault line emerging in these legal challenges is this idea, fully embraced by the Tenth Circuit, that businesses have the ability to take on the religious beliefs of their owners. It’s a radical re-imagining of First Amendment religious rights made possible thanks to the Citizens United decision, which held corporations have certain First Amendment speech rights, including the right to spend money in elections. And as soon as next year, we could learn whether or not the Roberts Court, and Justice Anthony Kennedy in particular, is willing to extend those rights even further.

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  • fiona64

    Congratulations, Hobby Lobby! You’ve managed to create a precedent for theocratic oligarchy.

    Guess which company will never get a dime from me?

    • http://alittleitchy.blogspot.com/ brista

      Send Hobby Lobby an email. They will probably reply with the same form email I received but it might make you feel better. I don’t understand why the courts are even considering this bunch of bologna. A business is not a person. A business is not a person. A business is not a person. It seems so obvious (what with a business not being a person) and yet…here we are. It’s ridiculous.

  • liberaldem

    If this is upheld, what other infringements on personal freedom will result? What other health conditions or choices will be subject to the personal beliefs of a business?

    • fiona64

      Short answer: only women’s health conditions and choices.

      • Lynn Allen

        I disagree. It could be quite a bit more than that. See above comment.

        • Valde

          Someone pointed out, a couple of weeks ago, that any other condition that isn’t contraception related is a life/death situation – so it can’t be denied.

          Only ‘female reproductive health’ is not to be taken seriously.

    • Lynn Allen

      Diabetes and/or obesity care because those conditions could be a result of their interpretation of gluttony as a biblical sin. Anything having to do with homosexuality including benefits for partners. Any other condition that could be remotely associated with a biblical sin or religious no-no like being an atheist or democrat or a Muslim. Being from any mid-eastern country. Lots of ways this judgement could be abused. Chris Hitchens was right – religion poisons everything, especially when it mixes with politics and begins to dictate policy. This is not justice, it’s religious abuse and discrimination.

  • WarWeasle

    This is great! By giving corporations the ability to have a religion, we will be opening up religion to huge issues. Like, which religion can a company choose? Can there be a church of the corporate which believes in pure prophet? Does a At&T have a soul?

    So much for a personal relationship with Jesus Co.