On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland temporarily blocked the government from forcing the Catholic owner of Weingartz Supply Company, Michigan, to comply with the mandate to include contraception in its employee health coverage.
With the ruling, Cleland becomes the second federal judge to temporarily block part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and providing a reprieve to religious owners of a family business. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge John Kane in Denver had temporarily blocked the government from enforcing the contraception mandate upon the Catholic owners of Hercules Industries Inc.
Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services argued that granting such exceptions to small business owners would hinder the government’s ability to implement the law. However, Weingartz Supply Co argued that the federal government has already been kind enough to provide an exemption to religious organizations and allowing additional relief for the small company and its 170 employees would not be a greater burden.
Agreeing with the small company, Judge Cleland observed, “The harm in delaying the implementation of a statute that may later be deemed constitutional must yield to the risk presented here of substantially infringing the sincere exercise of religious beliefs.”
Though Weingartz was joined in the lawsuit by Legatus, a national association of Catholic business owners, Judge Cleland refused to apply the temporary injunction in the case of Legatus, holding that the non-profit association may qualify for the government’s accommodation of religious organizations. Judge Cleland wrote in his 29-page opinion that if the government later tries to enforce the law against Legatus, it may resume its challenge in court.
The birth-control insurance mandate has been a topic of high controversy and interest in political campaigns this year. Until now, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate by different organizations.