Another hearing for Mennonite firm suing feds over contraception mandate
January 4, 2013By Zack Seward
A Mennonite-owned cabinet company is testing the Obama administration's health-care reform law.
The owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties say requiring them to buy a health plan for their employees that includes contraception violates their religious beliefs.
All parties were called to the Philadelphia federal courthouse Friday for an evidentiary hearing.
The contraception mandate would have kicked in Jan. 1, but last week a judge granted Conestoga a two-week reprieve.
After lawyers from the company and the government faced off Friday, Conestoga Wood CEO Anthony Hahn said it all boils down to religious liberty.
"Personally and for our company, we just don't feel like the government has a right to force or coerce our company and our family ... to go against [our values and beliefs]," he said.
The Hahns' case is one of at least 41 lawsuits across the country challenging the contraception mandate.
For Lancaster County-based Conestoga, violating the provision of the Affordable Care Act would cost the company $95,000 a day in fines.
Charles Proctor, the attorney representing Conestoga, says the Hahns are the sole stockholders in the company — and that their Mennonite beliefs should be granted protection from the contraception requirement.
"When it impinges on your religious freedom," Proctor said, "even the least little bit of harm is enough to trigger protection under the First Amendment."
Some legal scholars disagree.
"The problem here is that if everyone can claim religious objection to health reform or to any law, how do you ever enforce it?" said Robert Field, a professor of law and health policy at Drexel University.
He says explicitly religious organizations are already exempt from the provision. But it gets tricky when dealing with ostensibly secular corporations.
Field and another law professor contacted for this story say the odds of Conestoga winning the exemption are slim. However, the two-week reprieve, the professors say, indicates that the judge is taking the case seriously.
A decision is expected by the end of next week.