This is just the first skirmish in a war that will almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court. A Detroit federal judge has ruled that a Catholic business in Michigan doesn't have to comply with the HHS regulations issued by the Obama administration that require employers to offer health insurance that covers birth control.
The ruling only affects the company's Catholic proprietor, Daniel Weingartz, and the approximately 170 people who work for him. But it opens the door for other firms to seek relief on religious grounds.
Cleland is now the second federal judge to temporarily block part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 from being enforced against the religious owners of a family business. In July, U.S. District Judge John Kane in Denver temporarily prevented the government from requiring the Catholic owners of Hercules Industries Inc, a private manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
Weingartz was joined in his lawsuit, filed in May, by Legatus, a national association of Catholic business owners.
Roman Catholic bishops and many Republican lawmakers have opposed the birth control provision, and priests have been speaking out against the law from pulpits across the country. Church doctrine opposes artificial contraception but most American Catholics do not adhere to church policy.
Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services argued that granting exceptions for small business owners would interfere with the government's ability to implement the law. The contraception mandate serves the government's interests in promoting public health and gender equality, they argued.
The federal government has carved out an exemption from the contraception requirement for religious organizations. Allowing additional relief for Weingartz Supply Co and its 170 employees would not be a much greater burden, the company argued. Cleland agreed with Weingartz.
"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," Cleland wrote in a 29-page opinion.
Promote "gender equality?" What a novel responsibility that federal government has taken upon itself. The government may "protect" gender equality, as it protects other rights granted by the Constitution. But "promote?" What new and exciting functions our government under Barack Obama has taken on.
Still to come is the suit by the Catholic Bishops which is far more inclusive and deals with hospitals and clinics run by the Catholic Church. This will no doubt be a tougher nut to crack but the federal judge in Detroit has shown the way.