By Terence P. Jeffrey
July 26, 2012
(CNSNews.com) – The Justice Department last week presented the Newland family of Colorado–who own Hercules Industries, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business–with what amounted to an ultimatum: Give up your religion or your business.
“Hercules Industries has ‘made no showing of a religious belief which requires that [it] engage in the [HVAC] business,” the Justice Department said in a formal filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
In response to the Justice Department’s argument that the Newlands can either give up practicing their religion or give up owning their business, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the family, said in a reply brief: “[T]o the extent the government is arguing that its Mandate does not really burden the Newlands because they are free to abandon their jobs, their livelihoods, and their property so that others can take over Hercules and comply, this expulsion from business would be an extreme form of government burden.”
Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its mandate that individuals must buy health insurance, this suit which seeks to protect a small business from being forced to take actions that violate the moral and religious beliefs of the family that owns it is likely to be the next major court battle over Obamacare.
At stake is whether businesses are protected by the First Amendment—the part of the Bill of Rights that guarantees not only the free exercise of religion but also freedom of speech and of the press.
The Justice Department’s filing was made in Newland v. Sebelius–a suit brought by William, Paul and James Newland, and their sister, Christine Ketterhagen, who are Roman Catholics, and who together own Colorado-based Hercules Industries.
The Newland family founded Hercules in 1962 and have maintained it as a family-owned business ever since—growing it to the point where they now employ 265 people.
The Newlands’ lawsuit challenges a regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius finalized earlier this year that requires virtually all health plans to cover–without cost-sharing–sterilizations and all Food-and-Drug Administration approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortions.
Under the Obamacare law, businesses that have more than 50 employees must provide health insurance to their employees or face a penalty. To satisfy the mandate, the insurance must include the cost-sharing-free sterilization-contraception-abortifacient benefit. The regulation takes effect on Aug. 1, which means that as soon as any business starts a new plan-year for its health-insurance program after that date it will need to comply with Sebelius’s rule.
The Catholic Church, to which the Newlands belong, teaches that sterilization, contraception and abortion are intrinsically immoral. Last month, the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously adopted a statement declaring Sebelius’s regulation an “unjust and illegal mandate” and a “violation of personal civil rights.”
While much of the media attention on Sebelius’ regulation has focused on the fact that it will apply to famous Catholic religious institutions such as Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic bishops have repeatedly pointed out that the regulation also violates the First Amendment-protected religious liberty of lay Catholic individuals. That includes employees who will be forced to pay insurance premiums on insurance plans that violate the teachings of their faith and business owners who will be forced to provide such plans. > > > READ MORE