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When, not if: Conflicting court rulings set up an ObamaCare decision at the Supreme Court

The Third, Sixth, and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeal have weighed in on the HHS mandate...with contradictory decisions.
Thu Sep 19, 2013 - 7:23 pm EST

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 19, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – U.S. appeals courts continue to disagree on whether business owners and other employers with deeply held religious beliefs against contraception, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs should be forced to pay for them under ObamaCare’s HHS mandate.

As disagreements over the law’s constitutionality and applicability continue, it seems inevitable that the issue will wind up before the Supreme Court in the near future.

On Thursday, Alliance Defending Freedom asked the high court to hear arguments in the case of a Mennonite cabinetmaker who opposes the mandate on religious grounds, but whose request for religious accommodation was denied by the Third Circuit in July.

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Meanwhile, the Obama administration has only until September 25 to decide whether to ask the Supreme Court to review the Tenth Circuit’s ruling against the mandate in the high-profile Hobby Lobby case, which it appealed in federal court on Tuesday.

A fresh pair of circuit court rulings this week highlighted the stark contrasts between different judges’ interpretations of the law, which requires employers to provide “free” coverage for artificial birth control methods to all female employees enrolled in their company’s health plan.

In Cincinnati, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Catholic-owned auto parts business in Michigan must comply with the ObamaCare mandate.

Autocam CEO John Kennedy and his family had sued the Department of Health and Human Services arguing that the mandate would force them to violate their Catholic beliefs. He said his 661 employees could purchase whatever birth control methods they preferred with their own money using the company’s health savings plan, which allows money to be set aside before taxes for medical expenses not covered by insurance.

But he said he could not in good conscience purchase a group insurance plan that paid for elective procedures and drugs that his faith says are immoral.

The Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the case, ruling that since Autocam is a company, not a person, it has no right to religious freedom and thus no standing to file suit.

“The Kennedys’ actions with respect to Autocam are not actions taken in an individual capacity, but as officers and directors of the corporation,” Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote in her majority opinion. But she conceded that “[o]ur sister circuits that have considered whether for-profit corporations may be exempted from compliance with the mandate … have split on the proper answer to the question.”

One of those sister courts is the Tenth Circuit, which ruled in July that Christian-owned craft store chain Hobby Lobby 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.” The Tenth Circuit further asserted that “religious conduct…can be communicated by individuals and for-profit corporations alike.”

That ruling prompted the Christian owners of Cherry Creek Mortgage, a family-run home loan provider with 730 employees, to request a second hearing in their own case against the HHS mandate, which had earlier been dismissed by a lower court. Earlier this week, the Tenth Circuit granted them an injunction, as well, stating that the HHS mandate forced Cherry Creek to make a “Hobson’s Choice between a continuing infringement of religious freedom or potentially crippling monetary penalties.”

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Writing for the majority, Judge R. Brooke Jackson stated, “Each day that Cherry Creek is forced to provide the objectionable coverage, their sincerely held religious beliefs are violated…We agree that plaintiff Cherry Creek has established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of its “claim, and that the district court erred in concluding otherwise.”

Given the stark divisions between various appeals courts’ rulings, it seems inevitable that controversy over the HHS mandate will not end until it is settled by the highest court in the land.

“I think it’s likely the Supreme Court is going to end up deciding this thing,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which organized many of the more than 60 lawsuits opposing the mandate, in an interview with The Hill last month. “The question is when.”  


  hhs mandate, obamacare, supreme court

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