by Adelaide Mena, CNA
.- In the days following a Supreme Court ruling upholding religious freedom in the workplace, several lower courts have issued decisions protecting religious liberty in similar circumstances.
Several new injunctions issued since the Supreme Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby’s case “show that the HHS Mandate is on its last legs when it comes to religious non-profits,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending many of those challenging the controversial mandate.
“The sad part is that it has taken almost three years of litigation to get to a result the Administration should have supported in the first place because it is the right thing to do,” she said.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, requires employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and some abortion-inducing drugs at no cost to the employee. More than 300 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging the regulation on religious freedom grounds.
On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that the mandate forced them to violate their religious beliefs against certain drugs and devices that can cause early abortions.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the government had not used the “least restrictive means” of furthering its “compelling interest” of ensuring free birth control for all women, saying that the government could directly provide the drugs and devices, or find other means of distributing them.
The court struck down the mandate for “closely held corporations” that have religious objections to its demands. The IRS defines “closely held corporations” as those with 50 percent or more of their stock held by five or fewer individuals.
In the wake of its decision, the court also recommended that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider its decisions against Michigan-based Autocam Corp. and Eden Foods Inc. Those cases involve similar companies challenging the mandate.
The Supreme Court did not rule specifically on non-profit organizations, which must follow a modified version of the mandate that has also prompted heavy outcry. However, several of these groups have received injunctions protecting them from the contraception rules in the wake of the court’s decision.
On June 30, the Eternal Word Television Network and five Catholic organizations in Wyoming – the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, Catholic Charities of Wyoming, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, St. Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic School, and Wyoming Catholic College – received protection from their respective federal appellate courts from the mandate, which would have started enforcing crippling fines on July 1.
Evangelical school Wheaton College also received a temporary injunction from the mandate while the government responds to the college’s application for an appeal.
Other for-profit companies are also awaiting action after the Hobby Lobby decision, including Colorado-based Hercules Industries Inc., Illinois-based Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. and Indiana-based Grote Industries Inc.
Featured photo: Supporters hold ‘Women for Religious Freedom’ signs outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. on March 25, 2014. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.