WASHINGTON — The Obama administration told a federal appellate court May 3 that it would not seek to block an injunction the court had granted in November that had allowed a Christian book publisher to not comply with the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Tyndale House Publishers, based in Carol Stream, Ill., won the injunction Nov. 16 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Tyndale, which has about 260 employees, did not meet the "religious exemption" clause under the proposed rules governing the HHS mandate. The company filed suit to avoid compliance with requirement, under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, that employers include free coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.
Tyndale publishes Bibles and other Christian materials. It is primarily owned by the nonprofit Tyndale House Foundation, which provides grants to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of people around the world.
The company's most recent win in court is believed to be the first victory at the appellate level for those seeking to be exempt from compliance with the HHS mandate.
"We believe the government essentially conceded that its anti-religious legal position cannot succeed in court under scrutiny," said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Tyndale in court.
Tyndale will not have to comply with the HHS mandate "for the time being," Bowman told Catholic News Service in a May 9 telephone interview. "The company has already asked for a permanent injunction that would fully remove Obamacare's coercive mandate from the Bible publisher."
Bowman added, "We think the government knows that it's ridiculous to argue against religious freedom for anyone doing business, and so all of the people of faith who are doing this should benefit from the recognition that they can practice faith in their daily lives."
He said there are implications in the Obama administration's decision to pull back for all those challenging the HHS mandate. There are about 60 organizations and companies that have filed court challenges, including many Catholic organizations.
"We've won several injunctions already for those other companies, too, so this is not our only success," Bowman said. "But we plan to let all of the courts know that (the government is) beginning to realize that its position against religious freedom is absurd."
Under new rules proposed Feb. 1 to implement the mandate, HHS widened the exemption for religious organizations but said no exemption would be given to "for-profit, secular employers" whose owners have moral objections to providing the coverage. The rules are to be finalized in August.
During the 60-day comment period on the proposed rules, which ended April 8, a group of state attorneys general were among those who said the exemption should include business owners who are morally opposed to complying with the mandate.
When the injunction was granted in the Tyndale case last November, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton said the HHS mandate "affirmatively compels" the company to violate its religious beliefs.