Opponents of HHS Mandate Score a Victory with Monagham Injuction

 

HHS Mandate
Credit: whitehouse.gov

In a federal court in Michigan, Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan won an injunction against the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Monaghan sold Domino’s Pizza in 1998, but he also owns Domino’s Farms, an office park that houses more than 50 corporations.

The order from a federal judge stops the Obama administration from forcing Monaghan’s insurance plans to cover contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. The judge, Lawrence Zatkoff, made his ruling based on the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

Monaghan, a traditionalist Catholic and social conservative, has called contraception a “gravely immoral” practice. So, due to religious reasons, he has sued the federal government for forcing him to provide insurance coverage that is contrary to his convictions.

Supporters of religious liberty and other opponents of the ACA are calling the injunction a significant victory.

In February 2012, an exemption to the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate allowed churches to opt out of providing coverage that was objectionable to their consciences. A February 2013 HHS motion sought to find a third way for religious institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, to pay premiums to a third party insurer. This, too, elicited some derision from ACA opponents who said it was merely an “accounting gimmick.”

Despite these measures, the HHS mandate has also caused consternation for secular businesses.

Companies such as Domino’s Pizza, founded by a traditionalist Catholic, and Hobby Lobby, founded by evangelical Christians, have objected to the mandate, but have thus far not been exempted from its enforcement because the companies themselves have secular purposes.

The question these and others have asked concerns religious freedom. Is religious liberty confined to official institutions of religion? Can secular companies be compelled to provide contraception and abortifacients if those practices violate the religious consciences of those who would pay for and provide the coverage?

In its own lawsuit over the mandate, Hobby Lobby CEO David Green summed up the choices his company believes it faces:

“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. . . . We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

The Obama administration has provided exemptions and exceptions to churches. However, these motions have not definitively quelled opposition that is rooted in the belief that it can violate the religious consciences of non-religious institutions.

Even though Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan won a preliminary injunction, it could still be overruled by a higher court. If he and others are ultimately successful in gaining exemptions from the mandate, however, the gate may have been opened for more companies and businesses to be relieved from the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.