February 28, 2013 Print

Take Action: Court Rejects HHS Mandate Reprieve for Colorado Senior Centers

by Bethany Monk

A federal district judge on Wednesday declined to let a Colorado business owner temporarily avoid a government mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for possible abortion-inducing drugs.

Stephen W. Briscoe, an evangelical Christian, owns several small businesses that run senior centers in the state. His businesses employ more than 200 full-time employees in several different senior independent living residences, assisted living centers and skilled nursing facilities. He was asking the court for a reprieve while his court challenge is being heard.

“This decision demonstrates how some in the judicial system just don’t understand religious freedom,” said Michael J. Norton, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing Briscoe. “We will continue to press forward and will likely appeal this decision.”

Norton said the judge’s decision in the case is a “stark contrast” to the decision a different judge made in an earlier lawsuit involving a private Catholic-owned company in Denver suing over the mandate.

Hercules Industries, Inc., which makes heating and air conditioning units, filed its lawsuit in June 2012. The following month, a district court issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily halting the mandate as — as it applies to Hercules Industries — as the case moves forward.

The judge in Briscoe’s case concluded that “secular, for-profit corporations neither exercise nor practice religion.” It went on to reject the claim that the mandate places a substantial burden on the ability for Briscoe to practice his religion.

“The essence of the government’s position,” Norton said, “is that that religion can only be expressed within the four walls of your home or place of worship.”

The Obama administration required most businesses — even those owned by Christians — to comply with the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate by August 2012. The government gave some faith-based organizations a “safe harbor” until August 2013. Only churches and their auxiliaries are exempt. 

Forty-eight lawsuits — representing hospitals, universities, business and nonprofits — are in play. So far, courts have issued 12 injunctions halting the mandate for for-profit businesses. Four requests were declined.

“Americans ought to be free to honor God,” wherever they work, Norton explained. “That is the reason why there are so many lawsuits challenging the mandate.”

Take Action for Religious Freedom
Urge President Obama to stop the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate requiring businesses provide contraceptives and possible abortion-inducing drugs to their employees under their insurance plans.

Read the complaint in Briscoe v. Sebelius.

Read the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s HHS Information Central.