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U.S. Appeals Order Freeing Publisher From Birth Control Rule

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Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. will appeal a temporary court order won by a Bible publisher that blocked the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.

U.S. agencies, in a filing today in Washington, said they will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s ruling that the law’s coverage mandate “substantially burdens” the religious exercise of Tyndale House Publishers Inc. by imposing “considerable” financial penalties for failing to offer birth control coverage to its 260 full-time employees.

The case reflects the continuing controversy over the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers offer health-care plans that include coverage for contraceptives. Last year, the Obama administration sought to satisfy the concerns of religious-affiliated groups by forcing insurers to pay for contraceptives for employees of those organizations.

Forty-three Catholic organizations, including the archdioceses of New York and Washington, as well as the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, filed a dozen lawsuits last year in courts across the country, arguing that the mandate violates the freedom of religion guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Similar Reasoning

For-profit companies, such as Tyndale and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma’s Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., have challenged the law under similar reasoning.

The Tyndale ruling is the second injunction blocking the birth-control mandate to be appealed by the government. In September, the federal government asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver to overturn a similar ruling involving a Catholic-owned manufacturer and distributor of heating and air conditioning equipment.

Walton issued the preliminary injunction on Nov. 16. The single-page notice of appeal didn’t provide any details on why the government moved to appeal before a final decision was made by the judge. Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on the filing.

Christian Books

Tyndale, a publisher of Christian books based in Carol Stream, Illinois, sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Treasury Department and the Labor Department on Oct. 2, one day after the company was required to offer birth control coverage in its insurance plan.

Under the law, employers subject to the contraceptive coverage mandate face penalties of $100 per day per employee for non-compliance.

Tyndale argues the law violates the religious freedoms of the company and its owners, “who are committed to biblical principles including the belief that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God from the moment of their conception.”

“It’s disturbing that the government would appeal in order to argue that a Bible publisher is not religious,” Matthew Bowman, a lawyer from Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Tyndale and other businesses challenging the health care law.

The case is Tyndale House Publishers Inc. v. Sebelius, 12-cv-01635, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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