The battle over religious freedom is intensifying as the controversial federal contraception mandate goes into effect for many for-profit employers at the start of the New Year.
“We shouldn’t have to give up our First Amendment rights to make a
living,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for The Catholic
Association, which seeks to bring a faithful Catholic voice to the
Ferguson told CNA on Jan. 3 that employers who did not win a court
order blocking the mandate are now “placed in a horrible position,
choosing between their livelihood and their faith.”
On Jan. 1, 2013, new employee health insurance plans began for many
companies throughout the U.S., causing the new federal contraception
mandate to go into effect for them. The controversial mandate requires
coverage of contraception – including drugs that may cause early
abortions – and sterilization.
While the mandate includes a narrow exemption for some religious
employers and a one-year delay with the promise of a revision for
others, for-profit companies have not been offered any accommodation for
religious liberty. The government maintains that the right to religious
freedom does not extend to owners of secular businesses.
The mandate has prompted dozens of lawsuits from both for-profit and
non-profit organizations asking for temporary injunctions to block the
enforcement of the mandate while they argue their cases in court.
On Dec. 30, U.S. District Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff granted an
injunction to Tom Monaghan, the founder and former owner of Domino's
Pizza who now owns the property management company for a Michigan office
The judge acknowledged that the mandate would place a “substantial
burden” on Monaghan’s ability to freely exercise his Catholic religion
and could cause him to suffer “irreparable harm.”
“It is in the best interest of the public that Monaghan not be
compelled to act in conflict with his religious beliefs,” the judge
ruled in granting the injunction shortly before the end of the year.
Other employers scored last-minute victories as well, including a
Mennonite-owned wood manufacturing company in Pennsylvania and a dairy
farming corporation in Missouri.
So far, 10 for-profit employers have received injunctions from the
mandate, while three have been denied them. Those employers that were
not granted injunctions can still argue their cases in court, but they
may be subject to fines for violating the mandate during this process.
Grote Industries, an Indiana-based vehicle lighting manufacturer, is
one of the companies that was denied its request for an injunction.
However, attorney Matt Bowman said that the legal team representing the
company “has asked the judge to reconsider her recent decision.”
He explained to CNA that the appeals court in the judge’s circuit
“granted an injunction to another business the day after she denied
Grote Industries’ request.”
Hobby Lobby, the family-owned arts and crafts retailer, was also denied
an injunction by both a district and appeals court. Supreme Court
Justice Sonia Sotomayor turned down the company’s emergency injunction
appeal on Dec. 26, removing hope of immediate relief from the high
However, Kyle Duncan, an attorney representing Hobby Lobby in its case,
said that the company plans to continue providing health insurance to
its employees without paying for the drugs that it finds morally
To continue following their Christian beliefs, the company’s owners now risk fines of $1.3 million per day.
Ferguson said that the commitment shown by Hobby Lobby and its owners is “incredibly admirable.”
The company is “a true American success story,” started in a garage in
Oklahoma, she explained, and Congress “ought to be paying attention”
when a government regulation threatens the existence of such a business.
Still, Ferguson remains “cautiously optimistic” as the lawsuits
continue to move forward, observing that it is “encouraging that we’re
winning in most of the court cases.”
Prayer and efforts to educate others about the mandate are critical,
she emphasized, urging the faithful to be active in their parishes,
contact their congressional representatives and write letters to the
editor to raise awareness and support for religious freedom.
The unprecedented encroachment posed the mandate could lead to a
further erosion of fundamental freedoms unless people are willing to
stand up now, Ferguson explained.
“Catholics should be gravely concerned about this,” she said.