On Monday, January 13, 2014, Federal District Judge Stephen J. Murphy, III, granted injunctive relief to five additional non-profit organizations in the Thomas More Law Center’s newest challenge to the HHS Mandate filed in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
This newest challenge on behalf of the five non-profit entities was brought by Erin Mersino, trial counsel with the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The non-profit Plaintiffs include the Ave Maria Foundation, Ave Maria Communications (aka “Ave Maria Radio”), Domino’s Farms Petting Farm, Rhodora J. Donahue Academy Inc., and the Thomas More Law Center, all founded by Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan.
In granting the injunction, Judge Murphy noted that the Plaintiffs showed “a strong likelihood of succeeding on the merits” of their case. The Court rejected the government’s argument that the accommodation to the Mandate, which required the Plaintiffs to either pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs directly or sign a “self-certification” which would act as a permission slip to their insurance company to pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, was sufficient to alleviate the Plaintiffs’ constitutional objections. The government belittled the Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs by nakedly claiming that the Mandate did not violate them—despite the Plaintiffs’ sworn statements to the contrary and the government’s own position that never challenged the sincerity of the Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.
The Court, in rejecting the government’s position, proclaimed that “It is not the government’s business to decide what behavior has religious significance.”
The Court also made note of the “sheer number of exemptions” which allows other companies to avoid compliance with the Mandate, while the Plaintiffs did not qualify for an exemption and without judicial intervention would be forced to comply. The Court recognized that since so many are exempted by the government from complying with the Mandate, there is no necessity for the Plaintiffs to comply at the expense of violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The injunction protects the five entities from any compliance with the HHS Mandate. The government’s Mandate would have required the Plaintiffs to facilitate access to contraceptive and abortion-causing drugs and devices, as well as sterilization procedures, through their health insurance plan.
The Plaintiffs originally filed their federal lawsuit on December 20, 2013, and on December 23, 2013, they filed an Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order. On December 31, 2014, hours before the Mandate would have been implemented against the Plaintiffs, the Court issued the Temporary Restraining Order blocking the enforcement of the Mandate and protecting the Plaintiffs for a limited fourteen day period while the Court considered the Plaintiffs’ request for relief. This Monday, January 13, 2014, Judge Murphy gave his prior order more permanence by granting the Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction which will protect the Plaintiffs through the pendency of the case.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented on Judge Murphy’s ruling:
“Christians in America are under increasing attack by the Federal Government. And it’s important we realize that we must look to the Federal Courts to protect our religious freedom guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution. In this particular case, we are grateful for Judge Murphy’s decision and the expeditious manner in which he rendered it.”
The ultimate purpose of the lawsuit is to permanently block the implementation of the HHS Mandate which requires employers to obtain insurance coverage for abortions and contraception on the grounds that it imposes clear violations of conscience on Americans who morally object to abortion and contraception.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the HHS Mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act. Named as Defendants in the lawsuit are Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Thomas Perez, Secretary of the Department of Labor; Jack Lew, Secretary of the Department of the Treasury; and their respective departments.