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Hobby Lobby Solidifies 'Major Victory' against HHS Contraceptive Mandate

(UPDATED) Justice Department won't oppose small-business injunctions, upping the odds that Supreme Court will weigh in on employer-provided contraceptives.

Update (Aug. 15): The Department of Justice (DOJ) will not oppose an injunction granted to a Catholic-owned small business, favoring a different suit as a test case in the D.C. appeals court. As part of the DOJ's strategy, it also has announced that it will not oppose injunctions granted to other religiously owned small businesses pending a decision in the Gilardi v. Sebelius case.

Emily Hardman, communications director for The Becket Fund, which represents many of the cases currently making their way through the courts, says it is inevitable that the Supreme Court eventually will hear at least one of them.

"The case that is furthest along—and the one that scored the most dramatic victory against the mandate—is the Hobby Lobby case," Hardman told CT in an email. "The government is considering whether to seek Supreme Court review in that case as we speak, and we should know whether it will next month."

Meanwhile, Colorado Christian University has renewed its lawsuit again the Affordable Care Act, even though the school is exempt from the employer contraception mandate. The school's revised complaint calls the Obama administration's changes to its policy "meaningless."

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Update (July 30): Hobby Lobby may have secured its injunction against the HHS contraceptive mandate, but another family-owned business wasn't as fortunate this week. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it "respectfully disagrees" with the Tenth Circuit, declining to grant the Mennonite owners of a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company reprieve from the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to Religion Clause, the majority of Third Circuit judges held that for-profit corporations are not able to practice religion, and that "the conscience rights of the owners of a corporation do not pass through to the corporation."

That could be good news for those who hope for another ACA showdown in the Supreme Court, which previously declined to hear Hobby Lobby's case in December. However, this week's "split in interpreting federal statutes" 'increases the chances' that the Supreme Court will weigh in to resolve the issue, the Washington Post reports.

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Update (July 19): Hobby Lobby has solidified its victory against the HHS contraceptive mandate, as a lower court agreed with the Tenth Circuit today and temporarily banned the enforcement of the mandate on the evangelical-owned craft chain.

"There is a substantial public interest in ensuring that no individual or corporation has their legs cut out from under them while these difficult issues are resolved," ruled the court (albeit somewhat reluctantly), according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby as well as Wheaton College and other high-profile challengers.

There are currently 63 cases and 200 plaintiffs challenging the mandate. Courts have largely split on granting requests for injunctions, with the scorecard for for-profit challengers standing at 23-7 (when rulings have examined merits vs. technicalities), according to Becket's ongoing tally. Most of the 30 nonprofit cases have been dismissed on technicalities, though Geneva College recently became the first to receive a judgement on the merits and win (see below).

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Update (June 28): The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said today that granting Hobby Lobby an injunction against the employer-provided contraceptive mandte "was in the public interest."

Hobby Lobby "faced fines totaling $1.3 million daily beginning Monday," AP reports, "but Heaton ordered the federal government to not impose a penalty."

In addition, Heaton set a date—July 19—to hear Hobby Lobby's case, along with Mardel Christian bookstore, to reconsider Hobby Lobby's claims per the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling yesterday.

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[This post first appeared on June 27 at 3:30 p.m.]

Hobby Lobby has won a "major victory" in its case for an injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services' employer-provided contraceptive mandate, according to The Becket Fund.

Today, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the evangelical-owned craft chain had proven that complying with the mandate would cause "irreparable harm" to the company. As a result of today's decision, the case now will return to a lower court that will rule on the injunction.

But Hobby Lobby isn't the only company to win big this week. A Florida district court also ruled that Beckwith Electric Company, a for-profit, Baptist-owned small business, is not required to provide contraception coverage to employees under the Affordable Care Act.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the judge ruled "corporations do have First Amendment freedom of religion protections.... That opinion, should it be upheld, would enlarge the First Amendment freedom of speech protections the U.S. Supreme Court granted corporations under its 2010 Citizens United decision."

Geneva College, a private, non-profit Christian school in Pennsylvania, also received an injunction against the mandate, just one month after a judge reinstated the previously dismissed case. Geneva argued that it was already experiencing the effects of the mandate, even after the federal government announced changes to the policy that exempted some schools and religious organizations.

Baptist Press reports that the judge agreed that Geneva "was already suffering the effects of the mandate and reinstated the lawsuit," but that the ruling might not offer much hope to other schools with pending lawsuits "unless they can present facts like Geneva did showing that they are also facing immediate decisions on their insurance coverage."

CT recently rounded up the wave of contradictory court rulings released as fines over the contraceptive mandate were scheduled to begin. (Of note: For-profits seeking injunctions against HHS have 21-7 winning record.) Hobby Lobby, among the many surprising Christian organizations suing the government, recently lost its bid for an injunction before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as its subsequent request for a temporary restraining order before the United States Supreme Court.

Posted:June 19, 2013 at 11:52AM
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Hobby Lobby Solidifies 'Major Victory' against HHS Contraceptive ...