Federal court rules Mennonite cabinetmaking business must comply with HHS mandate
LANCASTER, PA, July 29, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – In a 2-1 decision, a federal appeals court has ruled that the Mennonite owners of a cabinetmaking company must comply with an Obamacare mandate requiring employers to offer co-pay free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs, regardless of their deeply held religious beliefs against it.
Norman Hahn and his family, who own Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, originally sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate, arguing that forcing them to pay for for drugs like Plan B, which can be abortifacient, was “sinful and immoral.”
But a lower court ruled that the Hahns must obey the mandate regardless of their religious objections, and on Friday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.
“We accept that the Hahns sincerely believe that the termination of a fertilized embryo constitutes an intrinsic evil and a sin against God to which they are held accountable, and that it would be a sin to pay for or contribute to the use of contraceptives which may have such a result,” Judge Robert Cowen wrote for the majority. “We simply conclude that the law has long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself. A holding to the contrary — that a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise — would eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.”
But dissenting Judge Kent Jordan wrote a scathing rebuttal, arguing that the majority’s decision “rests on a cramped and confused understanding of the religious rights preserved by Congressional action and the Constitution.”
Wrote Jordan, “The government takes us down a rabbit hole where religious rights are determined by the tax code, with nonprofit corporations able to express religious sentiments while for-profit corporations and their owners are told that business is business and faith is irrelevant. Meanwhile, up on the surface, where people try to live lives of integrity and purpose, that kind of division sounds as hollow as it truly is."
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The Hahns’ attorney, Charles Proctor said they will appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, but in the meantime, Conestoga will reluctantly comply with the mandate, since the Hahns cannot afford the $95,000 a day in fines they would have to pay if they refused.
The ruling is similar to one handed down two weeks ago by a Michigan judge in the case of a Catholic-owned company. In that case, the court ruled that “a secular for profit company, cannot ‘exercise’ religion and cannot act as the alter ego of its owners in challenging the contraceptive mandate … Nor can [the owners] impute their own religious beliefs to their corporation so that the corporation can act as their alter ego and assert those rights on [their] behalf.”
In response to the Third Circuit ruling against the Hahns, legal professor Marc DeGirolami of St. John’s University warned readers of his blog that the same reasoning that says corporations aren’t entitled to the same religious freedom as the people who run them could be equally applied to churches.
“All of the arguments it makes against the free exercise rights of corporations would apply equally to non-profit corporations like churches,” wrote DeGirolami. “Though the majority recognizes this problem, it does not discuss sufficiently (or really, at all) what for it are the key distinctions--the distinction between ’for profit’ and ‘nonprofit,’ and the distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘secular.’ There may well be strong arguments to exclude corporations that fall on one side of these distinctions from the category of those entities that can ‘exercise’ religion. But they do not appear in the majority's opinion.”
The Third Circuit’s ruling differs from a high-profile decision made early this month by the Tenth Circuit granting the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores an injunction against the mandate. In that case, the court decided that the for-profit company’s owners had “established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm.” A follow-up ruling granting the injunction stated, “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.”