Obama administration appeals Tyndale House healthcare ruling in federal court Print
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Thursday, 07 February 2013 01:32 PM America/New_York

Sister retailers Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian and Education discover a way to avoid fines in a separate case on the abortion mandate

Tyndale50LogoTyndale House Publishers celebrated in November when a federal court stopped enforcement of President Obama’s abortion-pill mandate, but the battle continues. Not to be outdone, the Obama administration filed an appeal in the case Jan. 15.

In a separate but related case, Hobby Lobby Stores and sister retailer Mardel Christian and Education have “discovered a way” to avoid being penalized by the federal government for not covering abortion-inducing drugs in their employee healthcare plans.

The administration argued that the Carol Stream, Ill.-based publisher doesn’t meet the criteria for religious exemption from the mandate, despite the fact that Tyndale House is the world’s-largest privately held Christian publisher of books, Bibles and digital media—directing 96.5% of its profits to religious nonprofit causes worldwide.

“Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish,” argued Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who is representing Tyndale. “Regrettably, the administration does not want religious freedom to stand in the way of imposing Obamacare.

“The district court rightly halted Obamacare’s abortion-pill mandate against Tyndale House, but the administration continues to argue that a Bible publisher isn’t religious enough to qualify as a religious employer,” he added. “For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is startling. We will continue to argue on appeal that the administration cannot disregard the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom to achieve certain political purposes.”

The publisher is subject to the mandate because Obama administration rules say for-profit corporations are categorically non-religious, even though Tyndale House is strictly a publisher of Bibles and other Christian materials and is primarily owned by the nonprofit Tyndale House Foundation. The foundation provides grants to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of people around the world.

In its opinion accompanying a preliminary injunction order in Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius, the court wrote that “the beliefs of Tyndale and its owners are indistinguishable. ... Christian principles, prayer and activities are pervasive at Tyndale, and the company’s ownership structure is designed to ensure that it never strays from its faith-oriented mission.

“The court has no reason to doubt, moreover, that Tyndale’s religious objection to providing insurance coverage for certain contraceptives reflects the beliefs of Tyndale’s owners,” the court continued. “Nor is there any dispute that Tyndale’s primary owner, [Tyndale House] Foundation, can ‘exercise religion’ in its own right, given that it is a nonprofit religious organization; indeed, the case law is replete with examples of such organizations asserting cognizable free exercise and RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] challenges.”

Meanwhile, an attorney for the Green family, which owns the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby and Mardel, said the chains could avoid fines for several months.

Starting Jan. 1, when the new healthcare plan was to take effect, Hobby Lobby and Mardel were to face fines of up to $1.3 million daily for defying the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ abortion-pill mandate, a regulation under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

However, Peter Dobelbower, an attorney and vice president for Hobby Lobby, said in a Jan. 10 statement that that the effective date had been postponed, but he didn’t elaborate.

“Hobby Lobby discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months,” Dobelbower said. “Hobby Lobby does not provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plan. Hobby Lobby will continue to vigorously defend its religious liberty and oppose the mandate and any penalties.”

In December, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied the request by Hobby Lobby and Mardel for an injunction while the case is pending, saying the stores did not meet the legal standard for blocking the requirement on an emergency basis. However, she said, the companies may still challenge the regulations in the lower courts.

In November, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton said that although churches and other religious organizations had been granted constitutional protection from the abortion mandate, “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.”

Hobby Lobby eventually could still face fines, despite for-profit organizations having a record of nine wins and five losses in federal court against the mandate, according to a tally by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the chain.

Hobby Lobby—the largest business to sue the federal government on the issue—is among the five for-profits to have lost in court. So far, each of the nine victories has been limited to the businesses that sued, although if those wins stand on appeal, they could cover Hobby Lobby, Becket Fund said.