May 17, 2013

Attorney sees a strong case for religious freedom for Grote family in lawsuit

By Sean Gallagher

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces most employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees has spawned dozens of lawsuits across the country.

Many religious organizations and business owners opposed in conscience to the mandate have been granted preliminary injunctions that free them temporarily from complying with the mandate.

According to Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, a May 22 hearing in the legal action taken by the Grote family of Madison will be the first time that arguments will be made that could lead to one of those injunctions being made permanent.

Although the hearing and the decision that will follow will be groundbreaking events in the nationwide legal struggle against the mandate, Bowman believes the prospects are good for a positive outcome for his clients. That’s because in granting preliminary injunctions, courts across the country have already addressed “the substance of the dispute.”

“Even though these cases are procedurally preliminary, the judges are ruling on the question, ‘Can the federal government declare that people of faith have no religious freedom when they are living their daily lives by trying to earn a living?’ ” Bowman said.

Although the basis for the Grote family’s request for relief from the mandate is based on the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, much of the arguments in their favor will focus on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law enacted in 1993 that codifies the religious freedom enshrined in that amendment.

That law was partially inspired by actions taken by the federal government against members of a small religious group in Oregon, and subsequent legal action related to it have also involved religious groups.

But Bowman said there is enough precedent in legal cases involving businesses and RFRA that he is confident that the federal courts will eventually side in favor of business owners seeking relief from the mandate. He believes this to be the case despite the fact that the Obama administration has made the argument that businesses do not have the religious freedom protected in the First Amendment.

“No case interpreting RFRA outside of this mandate, and most of them inside this mandate, say that there’s any such exemption in RFRA or the First Amendment,” Bowman said. “There have been many free exercise of religion cases in the Supreme Court involving people who are employers or who are trying to make money. And there are no cases doing what the Obama administration is trying to do, which is to shrink religious freedom [to such an extent] that only houses of worship can exercise [it].”

In a 2012 case that Bowman said was “partially relevant” to the lawsuits aimed at the mandate, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ruled unanimously in favor of Hosanna Tabor in a dispute in which the federal government tried to force the school to adhere to federal anti-discrimination laws in its hiring practices.

“It shows another attempt by the Obama administration to declare an entire area of human life, namely education, to be outside of the protection of religious freedom just because the government has decided it wants to dictate the rules,” Bowman said. “That’s what they’re doing here with health care and business, declaring these areas of human life to be ‘secular’ and therefore incapable of involving religion, which is not what religious freedom has ever meant in America.”

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the May 22 hearing, Bowman expects that the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Bowman, Alliance Defending Freedom and other legal advocacy organizations will continue to work with families across the country like the Grotes that own businesses that seek to defend their religious freedom.

“These are all families and people who follow the Lord Jesus Christ in every part of their life,” Bowman said. “And they don’t segment their faith into a box that only happens on Sunday. That’s what their families have been doing for decades to respect workers and improve the community through their family businesses. And the federal government is telling them that they’re not allowed to obey their faith in their daily lives.”

Bowman said the various lawsuits involving the mandate have a particular relevance for Catholics during the Year of Faith because of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty and on the laity being an essential part of the Church.

“When we say that the Church has religious freedom, the council fathers said that this means that the laity must be allowed to live their daily lives in a manner consistent with their faith,” Bowman said. “What the Obama administration will argue in Chicago on May 22 will be that the laity are not even capable of exercising faith in their daily lives outside of a house of worship. That’s what is at stake on May 22.”
 

(For more information about Alliance Defending Freedom, log on to www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org. Information on all the lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate can be found at www.becketfund.org/hhsinformationcentral.)

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