On Friday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a temporary halt to the coercive Obamacare mandate that requires employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs.
The ruling, which rejected claims under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is at odds with a June en banc decision from the Tenth Circuit (and many other lower courts). This clear circuit split increases the possibility that the Supreme Court could review the mandate’s assault on religious freedom during its next term.
At issue in the case was whether the Hahns, who own Conestoga Wood Specialties in Pennsylvania, employing 950 individuals, could continue to run their company in accordance with their Mennonite faith, including offering an employee health plan that aligns with those values.
Buying into the Obama Administration’s faulty argument that business owners’ religious freedom ends when they walk into their workplaces, the majority opinion of the Third Circuit ruled that the Hahn family should not be protected from the mandate simply because, technically, a corporation cannot “exercise” religion in the same manner as individuals.
Judge Kent Jordan, in his dissent from the majority’s opinion, denounced the majority’s offensively narrow view of the First Amendment:
That deeply disappointing ruling rests on a cramped and confused understanding of the religious rights preserved by Congressional action and the Constitution. The government takes us down a rabbit hole where religious rights are determined by the tax code, with non-profit corporations able to express religious sentiments while for-profit corporations and their owners are told that business is business and faith is irrelevant. Meanwhile, up on the surface, where people try to live lives of integrity and purpose, that kind of division sounds as hollow as it truly is.
Calling the government and majority’s reasoning “genuinely tragic” in denying the Hahn family protection from the mandate, Judge Jordan noted that the coercive rule’s toll extends well beyond economic burdens:
[O]ne need not have looked past the first row of the gallery during the oral argument of this appeal, where the Hahns were seated and listening intently, to see the real human suffering occasioned by the government’s determination to either make the Hahns bury their religious scruples or watch while their business gets buried.
The Hahn family, along with more than 200 other plaintiffs suing over the coercive Obamacare mandate, remains hopeful that other courts—and perhaps the Supreme Court—will have more respect for the First Amendment and all Americans’ ability to live and work in accordance with their faith.
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