The owners of Hercules Industries, a Denver-based manufacturer of heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, are devout Catholics and argued that complying with the HHS contraception mandate would violate their conscience. The Newland family, which has owned this company for fifty years, says they have always tried to live out their faith in the day-to-day management of their business.
Obama's contraception mandate, however, forces the Newland family to choose between violating their faith or paying millions of dollars in fees each year – a choice no job-creator in any economy should be forced to make. As Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Bowman, who represents the Newland familynotes, "The government here wants to destroy this business with fines, which would put three hundred people out of work."
The Founding Fathers' intentions are clear in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. With those five simple words – "Congress shall make no law" – the Founders established religious liberty as an essential individual freedom that government must respect. The Obama Justice Department, much more verbose than the Founders, penned a seventy-six page legal brief that dismantles this cherished tradition of religious liberty.
The Justice Department's core argument is that Hercules Industries is a secular company and the owners' religious freedom protections do not carry over to their business. But this argument reveals the Obama Administration's flawed understanding of what constitutes faith. Mr. Bowman observed that the Justice Department's definition of a faith act is so narrow that, in essence, one "only has religious freedom inside the four walls of his or her church on Sunday."
Having severely limited the scope of religious freedom, the government's attorneys argue that the Newlands must set aside their deeply-held religious convictions in order to participate in the secular economy. The Newland family, however, says they are committed to exercising their faith seven days a week, and that necessarily extends to the way they conduct their business.
Since Obamacare became law, the federal government has issued thousands of waivers covering several million people, exempting them from certain aspects of the law. Mr. Bowman points out that the government's decision to grant these waivers was politically motivated, but the refusal to grant an exemption to Hercules Industries is an "arbitrary political attack that targets religious believers."
More than anything else, President Obama's health care law is about control. Over the past few years, we have witnessed the expansion of the federal government's authorities under Obamacare. For starters, Obamacare gives the federal government the power to control the health insurance industry, the power to force individuals to purchase specific health coverage, and the authority to force companies to pay for conscience-violating contraceptives. And now, with the HHS mandate, the federal government has the authority to define what constitutes a religious act and when and where a person may exercise his or her faith.
Obama's Justice Department has rigorously defended Obamacare by arguing in favor of the expansion of the taxing power, the expansion of the government's role in health care, the expansion of the Commerce Clause, and the expansion of the government's role in individuals' decisions in matters related to health care. But here, in the Newland family's case, the Justice Department writes in their brief that the court should dismiss the case and "reject plaintiffs' effort to bring about an unprecedented expansion of constitutional and statutory free exercise rights." Thus, for Obama's Justice Department, upholding the First Amendment's existing religious freedom protections constitutes an unacceptable "expansion of rights."
By forcing business owners to violate their conscience, the "government is abandoning the Constitution and federal law" for a political agenda, according to Mr. Bowman. Indeed. Where the Constitution has presented barriers to the implementation of Obamacare, the Obama Administration's consistent approach has been to ignore both the Constitution and federal law. Voters would do well to take note of that pattern.