WASHINGTON – A leading Bible publisher won another court victory against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate May 3, thanks in part to the administration’s own partial retreat in the case.
The publisher, Tyndale House, had won a preliminary injunction in November from a lower court that prevented the government from enforcing the mandate, which forces businesses such as Tyndale to cover contraceptives that can cause chemical abortions. The drugs often are called “emergency contraceptives” and can act after conception and implantation, and come under brand names such as Plan B and ella.
The administration appealed that injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but eventually asked that the appeal be dismissed. On May 3, the three justices granted the administration’s request and dismissed it.
The injunction will remain in place while the case itself, Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius, moves forward. The lower court judge, Reggie B. Walton, had said in his November injunction ruling that Tyndale likely would win the overall case.
The legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) says the government’s desire to withdraw its own appeal is a good sign for religious liberty. ADF is representing Tyndale.
“Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish,” said ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman. “The government dismissed its appeal because it knows how ridiculous it sounds arguing that a Bible publisher isn’t religious enough to qualify as a religious employer. For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is outrageous, and now the Obama administration has had to retreat in court.”
Tyndale is among the 25 for-profits that have obtained rulings in federal court. Of those, the for-profits have won injunctions against the administration in 19 cases, according to a tally by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, placing the for-profits’ record at 19-6.
In his November decision, Judge Reggie B. Walton had said that forcing Tyndale to obey the mandate would also force it to violate its religious beliefs.
“The contraceptive coverage mandate … places the plaintiffs in the untenable position of choosing either to violate their religious beliefs by providing coverage of the contraceptives at issue or to subject their business to the continual risk of the imposition of enormous penalties for its noncompliance,” Walton wrote. “… Government action that creates such a Hobson’s choice for the plaintiffs amply shows that the contraceptive coverage mandate substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ religious exercise.”
Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law last summer, it did not address the issues in the Tyndale case.
Tyndale, based in Carol Stream, Ill., with 260 full-time employees, functions as a thoroughly Christian organization, the ADF suit states. For instance:
One of its corporate goals is to “honor God.”
It holds a weekly chapel service for employees.
It opens business meetings with prayer.
It sends employees on mission projects to support Christian mission organizations, paid for by the company.
Its trustees must affirm a statement of faith that proclaims, for instance, “there is one God, eternally existent in three persons.”
After the appeals court dismissed the appeal, Bowman said the ADF “will continue to argue that the administration cannot disregard the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom for all family business owners and must offer a comprehensive exemption to the mandate.”
The three justices who agreed to dismiss the appeal were Karen Henderson (nominated by George H.W. Bush), Thomas Griffith (George W. Bush) and Brett Kavanaugh (George W. Bush).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)